Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seeking an intimacy with the Natural World

As fall in Vermont meanders its way through September there is much to see and ponder in the everyday landscape outside Montpelier where I live. Templeton road intersects with County Road which leads to Calais and Maple Corners. Bursting from a dark tunnel of maple canopies into a large open area of pastures, a pond and hay fields one moves from the darkness of the forest into the light of the clearing.

In the early morning fog a magical time awaits an eager exploring eye. Here in the break of morning you really feel the transition from the coolness of night to the heat of mid-day. Atmospheric conditions present themselves unlike any other time of day to stimulate creative compositions derived from the mysterious qualities of fog. If I could express photography in terms of watercolor it would be seen in the quiet of this time of day amidst the breezy moisture. Mid-day precision dissolves for a while in fuzzy disorientation and otherworldly diffusion. This leads to a reflective intimacy with the natural world. For the world is waking, stretching and rising to meet the new day.

Why is seeing this way important to an architect? The buildings and places we design must connect to the land. The land must also connect and relate to the building. Building and land come together to create a sense of place. Blending the horizontal forces of the landscape with the vertical urges of buildings and structures is a lifelong quest. It's important to seek a balance between both to create a more powerful presence of place. By actively looking for this sense of balance around me whether here where I live in Vermont or wherever I go is instructive. By learning to look I see and feel the mood of a place. The fog teaches one how to see mood and symbolism in everyday things, bringing a sense of wonder to the ordinary, turning mere things into the extraordinary.

Our work in our building and design teams involves visualizing how and where and why to put and place structures in the land, in cities and villages. Do they blend in? Do they create a sense of contrast? How does this new place present itself visually in the land? Is it sited to invite discovery or be hidden from on-lookers? How can we turn the ordinary into the extra-ordinary?
Cultivating such abilities to see and interpret helps to produce a sense of mood, narrative and experience contributing richness and beauty to otherwise functional design. That's why it's important to keep learning how to see.

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