Do not let us talk then of restoration. The thing is a Lie from beginning to end. You may make a model of a building as you may of a corpse, and your model may have the shell of the old walls within it as your cast might have the skeleton, with what advantage I neither see nor care: but the old building is destroyed, and that more totally and mercilessly than if it had sunk into a heap of dust, or melted into a mass of clay…
But there may come a need for restoration. Granted. Look the necessity full in the face, and understand it on its own terms. It is a necessity for destruction. Accept it as such, pull the building down, throw its stones into neglected corners, make ballast of them, or mortar, if you will; but do it honestly, and do not set up a Lie in their place. and look that necessity in the face before it comes and you may prevent it…Take proper care of your monuments, and you will not need to restore them. watch an old building with anxious care; guard it as best you may, and at any cost, from every influence of dilapidation.
…it is no question of expediency or feeling whether we shall preserve the buildings of past times or not. We have no right whatsoever to touch them. They are not ours. They belong partly to those who built them, and partly to all the generations of mankind who are to follow us. What we have ourselves built, we are at liberty to throw down; but what other men gave their strength and wealth and life to accomplish, their right over does not pass away with their death; still less is the right to the use of what they have left behind vested in us only.
Therefore, when we build let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time will come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them and that men will say as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, “See! This our fathers did for us.” John Ruskin
See, Ruskin isn’t so difficult. It took me only about thirty years to find those little gems (and a bit of respectful editing).
A man cannot despair if he can imagine a better life, and if he can enact something of its possibility… Wendell Berry is a bit easier to read, but no less demanding of our conscience. I have been reading Wendell Berry for these thirty years as well, and no one has been more consistently inspiring. Reading The Unsettling of America was a prime motivator in my dropping out of college, not a bad move looking back. Not that I didn’t want to go to college, the problem was that I couldn’t learn what I needed to learn in college. So, I enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks.
Geometry, for instance, is only practicable in reality. Measuring the earth, laying out buildings, pulling diagonals on timber bents…count measure weigh…plumb level square. Ironically, geometry can also be purely theoretical; inasmuch as we never actually achieve perfect geometry, but only within whatever tolerance we establish for ourselves.
When we escape from geometric absolutes, and begin working with wood in the round, other more organic forms emerge. The shape, form, and geometry of a building carries a unique signal that either suppresses its energy or enhances it, making the structure either forbidding or inviting. These force fields of electromagnetic energy invoke an unconscious response; certain shapes signal us to approach, while others suppress their signals so that we do not enter their realm. Sanctuary is a primary human requirement. Circles protect within their circumference; while crosses, squares, four-multiples, and spiral shapes extend and suppress over wide distances, creating the most favorable conditions for protection. (Herbert Weaver, Divining the Primary Sense, 1978).