(james benedict brown) on the road


Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 8 March, 2006

I woke up this morning with a sharp pin-prick pain above my lip. There is no mark, but it feels as if I’ve been electrocuted or clawed by a cat in my sleep. Both explainations are possible considering the terrifying unearthed Canadian electric sockets above my pillow and the three cats who sleep with me… perhaps Toast came to nuzzle me in my sleep, put her tail too close to the socket, zapped me and then clawed my face as she recoiled? Hmmm…

Last night Ryan and I embarked on our respective French grammar and conversation classes at the YMCA. We came home to an amazon.ca parcel that had finally been delivered, with two books bought for me by a nameless but utterly gorgeous ladyfriend. One is the sixth edition of USA By Rail by John Pitt, and the other is Plain Modern: The Architecture of Brian MacKay-Lyons by Malcolm Quantrill. The latter is a very well written and beautifully illustrated profile of the sole Canadian architect I can admit to having an ‘architectural crush’ on. I hope to see some of his modest but striking buildings when I visit Nova Scotia in May, although since most are remote houses and private dwellings, I suspect that may not be easy. In many ways these houses symbolise much of what I aspire to: modern interpretations of vernacular building traditions that interact, respond to and compliment the landscape and climate of their surroundings. They may look very ‘different’ or out of context when you see a photograph, but I’m beginning to understand much more about the importance of Mackay-Lyons’ design approach rather than the final aesthetic impression.

In the preface of the book, Quantrill draws comparions between the Nova Scotian landscape and the coastal scernery of the remote East Anglian corner of England – my home and an increasingly vital personal point of reference. I cannot imagine Mackay-Lyons buildings in Norfolk, but I can imagine a similar design approach being applied to the design of projects in East Anglia. What seems so devastatingly clear to me now, is that I like these buildings because they are so free of ‘architecture’. They are not post-modern, techtonic or naturalist: they are what they are, free from an imposed architectural theory. They certainly originate from very strong ideas, but these ideas start with the landscape and the context, not from within the profession of architecture.

Does that make sense? I don’t know if it does… it’s hard to write with any clarity what I feel. I just know that I feel it very strongly. I actually had to force myself to put the book down last night because there was a danger I’d stay up all night until I’d finished it. I’ll return to this post and edit it as I find out how to express myself better.

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