Saturday, April 4, 2009

A word from Ruskin


I just finished reading John Ruskin's "The Seven Lamps of Architecture", so I thought I'd leave y'all with a quote from it, in the chapter "The Lamp of Memory", in which Ruskin talks about the sanctity of home. This section of his work really resonated for me, and I think it speaks for itself without need of commentary on my part:

"I say that if men lived like men indeed, their houses would be temples - temples which we should hardly dare to injure, and in which it would make us holy to be permitted to live; and there must be a strange dissolution of natural affection, a strange unthankfulness for all that homes have given and parents taught, a strange consciousness that we have been unfaithful to our fathers' honour, or that our own lives are not such as would make our dwellings sacred to our children, when each man would fain build to himself, and build for the little revolution of his own life only.

And I look upon those pitiful concretions of lime and clay which spring up, in mildewed forwardness, out of the kneaded fields about our capital - upon those thin, tottering, foundationless shells of splintered wood and imitated stone - upon those gloomy rows of formalised minuteness, alike without difference and without fellowship, as solitary as similar - not merely with the careless disgust of an offended eye, not merely with sorrow for a desecrated landscape, but with a painful foreboding that the roots of our national greatness must be deeply cankered when they are thus loosely struck in their native ground; that those comfortless and unhonoured dwellings are the signs of a great and spreading spirit of popular discontent; that they mark the time when every man's aim is to be in some more elevated sphere than his natural one, and every man's past life is his habitual scorn; when men build in the hope of leaving the places they have built, and live in the hope of forgetting the years they have lived; when the comfort, the peace, the religion of home have ceased to be felt; and the crowded tenements of a struggling and restless population differ only from the tents of the Arab or Gypsy by their less healthy openness to the air of heaven, and less happy choice of their spot on earth; by their sacrifice of liberty without the gain of rest, and of stability without the luxury of change.

This is no slight, no consequenceless evil; it is ominous, infectious, and fecund of other fault and misfortune. When men do not love their hearths, nor reverence their thresholds, is is a sign that they have dishonored both...it is one of those moral duties, not with more impunity to be neglected because the perception of them depends on a finely toned and balanced conscientiousness, to build our dwellings with care, and patience, and fondness, and diligent completion, and with a view to their duration at least for such a period as, in the ordinary course of national revolutions, might be supposed likely to extend to the entire alteration of the direction of local interests.

This is at the least; but it would be better if, in every possible instance, men built their own houses on a scale commensurate rather with their condition at commencement, than their attainments at the termination, of their worldly career; and built them to stand as long as human work at its strongest can be hoped to stand; recording to their children what they had been, and from what, if so it had been permitted them, they had risen. And when houses are thus built, we may have the true domestic architecture, the beginning of all other, which does not disdain to treat with respect and thoughtfulness the small habitation as well as the large, and which invests with the dignity of contented manhood the narrowness of worldly circumstance.
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I can only imagine what Ruskin would think of the North American building scene and what it has become, the land of McMansions and strip malls, built, crushed, scraped and built again.... This is the built environment we are bequeathing to our descendants, all in the name of making a dollar and in apparent satisfaction of our ego.






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