Monday, August 24, 2009

Matthew Alderman in Dappled Things

This quarter's edition of Dappled Things has an article I wrote on my thesis project from my days at the School of Architecture at Notre Dame--a hypothetical midwestern seminary design for the Institute of Christ the King--which also considers the larger issue of "paper architecture," and its significance to real-world architectural practice. It also has some very nice reproductions of the presentation watercolors that I did for the project. An extract:

I still am quite proud of the seminary design, even if perhaps there are some aspects I might now handle differently. One of the smaller plates from the set, a four-foot-long cutaway drawing in pleasantly soft sepia tones, hangs over my couch, and has followed me from Notre Dame to New York and finally to Milwaukee, a reminder that I must measure myself—success and failure alike—not against my peers, but against the great cathedral-builders of old, who had to think big as a matter of course.

I have retained my old loves, but added new ones—a deep interest in the later Gothic revival, an occasional taste for art deco, an eagerness to take on the austere and simple, when reality necessarily intrudes. But I would have never gotten here had I not first tackled this grand paper project. Architectural decorum reminds us that a grand building requires grand ornament—something I still firmly believe—but grand ornament requires funding that is not always at hand. To design a beautiful, strong, and simple structure, you must design a beautiful, strong, and complex one first, and then carefully, gently, and logically remove all the bits reality cannot quite handle yet. This is how you pack as much as you can into as little as you may have been given. The simplicity of the California missions could not have blossomed without the
exuberance of Mexico’s cathedrals before it. [...]

Daniel Burnham, that great fin-de-siècle shaper of cities, is frequently—perhaps too frequently—quoted as saying “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.” He also remarked, more significantly from an aesthetic point of view, “A noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.” Even when we cannot raise a building in bricks and mortar, the soul of a building may yet inspire a little tribe of intellectual children. Such exercises serve to generate fruitful discussion, and more importantly and intangibly, spur us forward.

You can find the article here. Andrew Cusack has also reprinted it, with handsome enlargements of my illustrations, at his website. He has also added--a rather fun if unusual little feather in my cap--a separate category on his blog for all Alderman-related architectural posts, incidentally.

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