I have posted in the past about a sense of atmosphere that is embedded within a room. For architects, we are engaged in making the imagined world into the real world. The imagined world may exist in the models, drawings and in the mind of the architect, but at the end of the construction process, we interact with the physical qualities of a structure, not just its representations
In Colorado and much of the Rocky Mountain West, the welcoming signs at the arrival of every town proudly or perhaps matter-of-factly, announce the most important attribute of the settlement: its height above sea level.
In the midwest and, at least in my recollection, most towns across the nation, the introductory boundary sign of a place contains the city's name along with the size of the population.
So why the difference? Most cities are proud to announce their size and status as reflected in a hopefully growing population. I guess in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains, that kind of boastful achievement declaration is reserved not for size but altitude. Our cities and towns may be small, but we're up there pretty high.
Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday break I took a roadtrip from Colorado to my native Kentucky. This is the vast Flyover land of the center of the United States. It is roughly the former vast inland sea from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachian Mountains. It is certainly the least densely populated one third to one half of the the US, and largely dominated by fields and pasture, sheds and barns, farmhouses and shacks of agricultural America.
This immense area - eastern Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, western Kentucky - is not the stuff of dramatic landscapes. That is not to say that it is not beautiful, but it is a softer, more subtle set of relationships between land and sky that makes this area's initial uniformity peel away to reveal an intensely beautiful sense of place. And in that flat, or gently rolling landscape, a building sticking up from the earth holds a kind of power that qualifies the space around it. A sense of space aggregates around a building. Here in the Rocky Mountains and in so many places along the eastern seaboard, there seems to be a natural space that buildings have been placed within. But in these midwestern plains, a building makes a space, a small domesticated sphere that comes into being only by the nature of the building.
Frank Lloyd Wright knew this. He clearly understood how a building sits on this flat earth and how a large, sheltering roof can make a space more profound than a series of walls. On my recent trip I did not visit any of his iconic prairie-style houses, but rather the Price Tower in Oklahoma. More about that in an upcoming post.
Driving for many hours is a great way to reflect on things, and for me this naturally falls to things architectural. Over the next few weeks I will post some more photos and thoughts that bubbled up during this long drive. Send me your thoughts.
a photograph of the Piazetta, the small plaza near San Marco, Venice, Italy by Mark Gerwing with a discussion of Venetian painterly styles versus Florentine drawn styles
shadow plan image of our Design Build Challenge submission for Lolitas Market in Boulder, Colorado by M. Gerwing Architects
images of our proposal for Lolitas Market in Boulder, Colorado for the Design Build Challenge event by M. Gerwing Architects with Stacey Root