• John Diamond-Nigh

The cello and the dumpster

Updated: Oct 7, 2019

Nor has life in it aught better

Than this hour of clear coolness,

the hour of waking together.

#Ezra Pound

At a point in time when the arts and music are struggling to be original at all, architecture is flying. Japan. Argentina. The American #Frank Gehry’s new #Louis Vuitton in Paris is a museum of staggering, windblown lyricism.

But just the name Vuitton points up a primary problem: architecture has become an unattainable luxury. At the level where it might matter to most of us, at the urban level of condominiums, hotels, parking garages and houses, design falls into the despondently serial and lackluster hands of expeditious developers. For a month I kept up a howl of dissent (so unlike me) when my city authorized a condominium of such stellar banality and blundering scale–what choice did I have? #Asheville in fact has a lot of great, even visionary architecture. It sits in a resplendent wilderness. Both confer an implicit standard; we are not living up to it.

Michael Kimmelman asks: why is it so hard for American cities to put up worthwhile #architecture? In an age of wealth and golden inventiveness, we keep falling deeper into the clutches of expedient mediocrity.

If we do buy or build a house, we follow the most pasteurized dictates of urban convention. Who even thinks that a home might be a unique psychological or aesthetic portrait of who we are? Of the lives we aspire to lead?

Think of your living room and of all that’s contingent upon it–solitude, companionship, music, food, sex (good sofa), art, pets, health, contemplation, sleep, conversation, mood, relaxation, movies, seduction, work, anguish, blow-ups, confession, enchantment, existence itself. Why do I think space matters so much? Because it is the stage, the acoustic of this plural drama, making it humdrum or making it resonant.

I’ll stick my neck out–most conventions pertaining to our houses are . . . well, wrong. If not wrong, way past their shelf life. And by being wrong, they materially impair and contaminate our lives in a hundred unseen ways.

A professor of mine once contrasted two models of home, the cello and the dumpster. The dumpster is the house we just fill up with stuff. How much better, he wondered aloud, if we treated it as a spare and living instrument capable of delirious satisfactions?

My dream of a Sunday morning is to sit with my coffee and warm croissant and wherever my eye alights, on clean walls, a vase of flowers, a roving cat or a work of art, to sink into Pound’s clear coolness. Lynne awakens, we talk, absorbing the scintillant tranquility of light and space like a child absorbs the suspense of a fairy tale.

Architecture is still a bond, an ethic with the earth. Some scrap of earth has been taken, like the life of an animal for the production of meat. Houses I like aren’t just efficient, exquisitely adaptive, appropriately modern. They bear an intrinsic thank you, in their lightness, beauty and tact, for the sacrifice that was made.

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