The homes of the gods are most often constructed near their sacred springs, the site of their miracles, their births, or the location of some occasional visitation. Most often, at home, there was a table for feasting, then, as now, known as an “altar”. There was a porch, maybe two, and within the main room some portrait of themselves or their ancestors, as is found in most every suburban house. Occasionally, sometimes in celebration of birth or peculiar anniversary, there was a party, song and dance, the giving of gifts, toasts, the receiving of blessings. Then, as now, the gods live much alike you and me…with some few exceptions.
Early, before the wealth that economic liberty creates, materials necessary to building were sparse, excepting those materials close to hand, sand, water, mud and rocks, tress, grasses of many sorts. As you will imagine, the old houses of the gods were little better than the houses of men, sometimes, not so large. Be certain, soon, by hubris, the big houses fell.
You might picture these early god homes as I remember them in description. The floors were of stone, sometimes dressed, sometimes not; atop the stone, rude bricks arose, sometimes dried, sometimes hardened by fire; these bricks were flanked by sturdy tree-trunks spaced equally by need, alike the spacing of an open hand proportioned to height and width; there was an interior room to keep warm, to keep away the teeth of beasts; there was a porch for air and light, a cover to keep off rain; sometimes, the porch surrounded the god’s house…without conditioned air, so stifling in summer was the inner room, so refreshing the breeze of the porch from plain or sea.
In time, by trade in production, money and lending, the temples grew large and rich, grew marble where once there was wood, roof tile where once there were reeds, paint, where once there was stain of mud, dust, and decay. And yet, the character of building in wood was retained in the form of stone: likely, the triglyphs were the joisted roof joints; metope, the high opening to let go heat, and bad air; the architrave was, likely, the lintel above trunk posts; and then, there were allowances for the necessity of stone, columns fluted to prevent erosion; drip-caps at architrave and cornice to draw rain away; the floor was by stylobate raised to keep out mud in flood; et cetera.
And then, by reason you will notice that the homes of gods were larger than ours, after all, gods, titans, heroes were known to 15 and 25 feet tall…we found the bones, what though they were dinosaurs, how would you know. Then, perhaps by ichor and great feasts of hecatomb of oxen, the gods grew; Zeus, you know, was some 40 feet tall, by the First Classical Age, very much as Phidias formed him, at rest, elephantine, in state, seated in his comfy throne at home in Olympia.
Yes, the gods are very much alike us, though more great; and this an ambition toward which we might aim, as we have in the homey temples that we for ourselves build…each home after the nature of its inhabitant. Although our bodies might resemble the bodies of gods, Apollo in grace and strength; Aphrodite ripe in lusciousness; Hera in dignity imposing; Zeus fearsome and stately, as we mentioned; Dionysus, sometimes by drink gone to seed, though this characteristic is more common in Bacchus; or, of Hephaestion, thrown from Olympus, crippled, with special needs; as you know, Hades lived in the Underworld, which now we name, “Hell”, a deadly, dreary place, Halloween-like, without the candy.
As we were saying, our homes are much alike the homes of gods, excepting that our bodies want conveniences to mediate our weaknesses: we grow tired, we grow hungry, we grow hot in summer, cold in winter, we grow old; we need to fix things by tools stronger than our inferior human flesh, the hammer for the fist, the wrench for the hand, the saw for the teeth, these days, the computer for the brain, and pornography for…just what is pornography for…not love.
You will notice, we Americans are more god-like than any other people: see coast-to-coast the Greek and Roman temples, sometimes white, pure in form, sometimes polychromed in beauty as was the Greek, sometimes alike the child with choice of too many crayon. As over time our temples traveled round-the-world they acquired strange foreign accents, scallops and turrets and castellations, brackets and timbers and hanging eves, and yet, most each remembers the gods for whom they were fashioned.
Perhaps you have noticed, the more god-like the building, the more bi-laterally symmetrical, the more harmonic in grace in strength, the more eloquent in form and design. Certainly, you have noticed, because you gaze upon yourself in mirrors to consider your bilateral harmonies, your equilibriums, your imperfections—sometimes in pleasure, sometimes in disgust—of parts which might be properly placed but oddly spaced (take heart, Beauty likes within itself something of the exotic); know that without exception, each part has two sides and a middle, a top and a bottom and a middle, a space a form a space again, and on-and-on in pattern, alike all things in nature, even in the nature of the Invisible God who is known in the pattern of all things.
All of < this is true; and yet, what has all of this to do with the Canon of architecture, its order and its Orders, and its liberal Laws? Well, in truth: all that we are.
The bird, by its nature, builds a nest, as often do squirrels, when not in attics; snails grow shells, as do clams, as do some introverts; bears, alike grouchy professors, prefer dens; snakes live in holes or beneath rocks, as do modernistic libraries; we all live in homes by the nature of what we are, or by the pattern of what we are becoming. The nature of Classive, humane man is beautiful, kind, considerate; in silence, strong, in intelligence, generous. The gentleman, the lady, each are unassuming, adorned but in measure to the purpose of the garment, the intention of the body. Others: the whore is showy, tawdry; the braggart is boisterous, seldom a good neighbor; the snob is singular, contrary, arrogant, alike a Bauhaus in a neighborhood of homey colonials. As I was saying: We build or choose homes that suit our nature, each-and-all, much as, as-often-as-not, dog and man, woman and cat, match.
< That, friend, was the gist; this >, the particular: “Firmness, Commodity, Delight”, the Vitruvian Triad, codified by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio in the treatise, De architectura, “On architecture”, the lone, surviving how-to manual of the First Classical Age. There is much we learn from Vitruvius of the Triad: that a building need be not only Firm in fact, but also Firm in appearance; that the building in structure be confident, that the appearance of structure lends confidence that it will not fall upon our heads; a building need be comfortable to our body, commodious to our body’s need, practically for comfort, visually for ease; a building need be a delight to the eye, a delight to the mind, to the eye in recurring surprise for occasional pleasure, to the mind in slow growing to delight in revelation.
< That, what building should be; this > what buildings recently have been: the wall in threat that leans in menace over us, the crooked modern stair that tripping twists our body, the hard concrete more ass of ape than rose of lip or lift of lash in building face is, how best to say, dumb, mean and wrong, AIA and typical.
Of the Vitruvian Triad, here, the telling bit: There is, in your body, as in mine, universal harmonies of geometry; there is a measured symmetry in all of us as there is in all of Nature; there is in each of us the memory of the generating God by lineament, form and line, et cetera…and there is so much more to tell.
Of The Orders, first, you might like to know that order is not particular, order is universal, as are The Orders, the Tuscan, the Doric, the Ionic, the Corinthian, the Composite (I am amending the Orders with the Levantian and the Aeolian, not here considered). You should know that by order in observation, and in use, each Order has grown, has refined in use, over time. You should know that each Order contains the meaning of its begetting, the story of its discovery in invention, sometimes apocryphal, sometimes true; you should know that The Orders are a language of architecture most inclusive, most comprehensive, most often spoken these three millennia of Western Civilization from our beginnings long past, and likely, hopefully, into a future none now living can see.
Here, a primer of The Orders:
the Doric is broad, heavy, unadorned, firm upon the ground, manly in silence, bearing great weight…first, it was Greek;
the Ionic is energy restrained, composed, poised, lifting in measure, a gentleman in assembly…first, it was Greek;
the Corinthian is slender swelling, voluptuous in growing, a female verdant, lovely, adorned…first, it was Greek (nearly wrote: “she is Greek”);
the Composite is Ovidian, a metamorphosis in progress, a loving union of Ionic into Corinthian…it became in Rome;
the Tuscan is plain, a workman, a farmer simple spoken, bowlegged, broad-shouldered and practical…before it was Roman it was Etruscan.
Architecture is alike Language, alike Music in harmony, in symmetry, in beautiful pattern. In the art of poetry, alike the art of buildings, patterns create diverse affects as they are used in typical or in variation, musically.
The iamb, “tee-TUM”: tee-TUM tee-TUM tee-tum Tee-TUM tee-TUM.
The trochee, “TUM-tee”: TUM-tee TUM-tee tum-tee TUM-tee TUM-tee.
The dactyl, “TUM-tee-tee”: TUM-tee-tee TUM-tee-tee TUM-tee-tee TUM.
The anapest, “tee-tee-TUM”: tee-tee-TUM tee-tee-TUM tee-tee-TUM TUM TUM.
The spondee, “TUM-TUM”: TUM-TUM tee-TUM TUM-TUM.
Architecture, alike language, is musical in symmetries, in harmonies, in geometries of pattern. Each Order has its geometries which we shall not here dilate upon—that, for some future discussion: here, point is, alike grammar, alike syntax, alike lexicon, alike phonetics, alike semantics, the language of architecture, classively, is most infinite in the unity of variety. For example, the examples, below.
Notice: these are not different languages, just as as-there-are different subjects in different genres, as just there are differences of subject and genre in literature and music…language employed particular in purpose of use.
A house, a temple, a barn carries in itself the memory of its use through history, growing richer in meaning, in diversity year-to-year, century-to-century, millennia into millennia. No time, just now, to expand on the boring, predictable repetitions of progressive architecture, its modernistic commonalities, its doggerels, its illiteracy…you have seen the buildings, you know, you do not like them, the studies show (see The National Civic Art Society survey). Why…for many a cause: ugliness, inconvenience, instability, those weak opposites of firmness, commodity, and delight!
In this moment of writing, it occurs that we shall want a canonic listing of stories, statues, structures, which, I suppose, must be accomplished, though not in this brief outline of introduction to the canonical examples of what we are, re-guarding the evidence of who we are by what we make. After all, our purpose is to know the nature of ourselves, we humans, so that in future we might better understand how best to be humane. This much we know: Progressive art, in story, in statuary, in structure is inhumane, purposefully and aggressively. Darn it: we must create that canonic list of what is best, which we shall do, though, unlike all previous listings higgledy-piggledy chosen—excepting, of course, the good book, The Bible—our Canon shall begin with First Principles in choice. And there it is, as there it shall be.
We might proceed into the ontological meaning in form, proportion, line and the rest, our senses, physical elements in psychological effect, all the necessaries in consideration of human vicissitudes, yet, we shall not, now. Now, there was all of < that in the Canon of Architecture, and O, so very much more…and there is this old saw, wise beyond begetting: “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” spoken by Winston Churchill in debate of alteration after the blitzkrieg destroyed The House of Commons; after-all, it was determined that the Wisdom of Tradition is best.
Always remember: Life is a gift of the God, beautiful, good, and true; our temples, our courts, our homes, should be eternal, too.
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The story of the American Dream is found in the history of the American Home, and each house tells a story. The first book of The Beautiful Home series, The Beautiful American Home illustrates the history of American building types…updated for modern living.
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Coming soon to the web (later, to print): THE BEAUTIFUL HOME, A Practical Guide to American Domestic Architecture, containing:
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