Wednesday, March 21, 2007

If wood could talk


Guardian of the past
London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to enlarge]


Big old staircases in big old mansions that have been around for over a century seem to wear their histories firmly on their ornately carved surfaces. As I crouch on the bottom of the staircase and focus in on the base of the first post that anchors the handrail, I wonder about the scratches and gouges, and how they bear witness to a history that I can only begin to imagine.

I wonder if newer architecture prompts similar pondering. As I put the camera away, I decide it doesn't. Why is that?

Your turn: Why is modern architecture seemingly unable to elicit the same kind of emotional response? A hundred years from now, will our descendents get on the floor of today's buildings for close-up photography and reflection?

32 comments:

Shephard said...

I bet some of those dings and scratches are close brushes with pieces of furniture. :)

I think only interesting architecture, ornamental or authentic materials garner such emotional pondering. Age definitely plays a part.

I love old carved wood. :)
Thought-provoking.
Happy Wednesday!
~S :)

Nana said...

I think "modern" architecture will get that response, someday, when it's not modern anymore :).
My great aunt lives in a huge brick Victorian farmhouse. She's the third generation to live there, and probably the last of my family. Her son lives in a ranch house he built down the road and has no interest in it; he intends to sell it when she's no longer there.
Unfortunately, I can't afford to buy it, or I would. It's been well cared for, but it has the inevitable signs of wear and tear from the passage of time. My favorite spot in the house is the step between the mud room and the kitchen. There's a "dip" a few inches deep worn into the stone from the passage of hundreds (probably thousands) of footsteps over the 100 plus years since it was put in place. Whenever I see it, I imagine the children who came and went, the neighbors and farmhands who stepped on it on their way to the kitchen for harvest suppers, and of course my extended family gathering at holidays. I just hope whoever eventually buys the house will appreciate that step, and all it stands for, as much as I do.

Mrs. Fun said...

I love old buildings and houses. I think we have gotten money hungry :( This type of detail cost money and takes time. Contractors now days are just in it for the money not the art :(

bluemountainmama said...

i love old wood....and i love this close-up shot! i think you hit the nail on the head as to why new structures DON'T elicit that emotional response.....because they have no history yet....no stories to tell.

and so many arent' made with the wonderful wood....it's not affordable. so they just don't have the same feel....it's all fiberboard and chintzy.

great photo and thoughts.....

Linda said...

I think that modern architecture may someday get this same response...if it survives.

Longevity plays a big part in why people are inspired with historical architecture. I prefer to take pictures of things that have survived eons...wars, weather, time...generations.

Sarch said...

A future Carmi? I sure hope so. The world would be a lesser place if it doesn't have one.

Anonymous said...

Modern architecture as it is now, I doubt will generate the same thoughts you get when you look at details that adorn todays time worn features. Modern architecture in its desperate, and frantic attempts to stay sterile will always be sterile. A slab. A billion slabs all the same. Will forever be a billion slabs all the same.
Sure, One London place will tower above us for years to come, but it will always be that glass slab jutting out of the London cityscape. Sure, it looks cool, but travel a mere couple blocks to the old post office. Art Deco, but it still carries character. Something about the building as a whole beckons you to look closer. There are lines, there are cracks, there are features present. It dances with your eye. Modern stuff? Its a towering monolith.
Renovations in todays institutions (schools) turn what once was craftsman ship, and hide it behind drop ceilings, coat upon coat of institutional drab paint. Happen upon of these gems before "renovations" grab hold and your eye again dances with the details. As a kid, you can stare at the crown moldings, see the character... day dream. Move into a "modern" school and you have what? 4 concrete block walls, and a drop cieling. Every room the same as the next. There is no character, it will never get that character. Certainly, the kids artwork will provide *much* needed character, but come summer time, those rooms are back to being their drab self. Carmi, theres a possible photo assignment for you.. The "old school" vs. "new school". Theres a public school near your lunch time wanderings (to the northwest. obviously discretion is the better part of valor as they say when it comes to taking photos around schools, unless your kids happen to go there and the people at the school know you)that will let the architecture dance with your eye as you pick out the details.
Hmmm... this topic must be a sore point for me to get me rattling on like this. =-)

Alex.

susan said...

Modern buildings are just "there". We see them everyday and they become commonplace. Oh sure, brand new ones may garner some attention, but it quickly fades from mind.

Old buildings have stood the test of time. They have proved that they were made well enough and were cared for enough to develop a bit of character.

Those are just my thoughts on the topic. :)

Mike said...

Interesting thoughts today Carmi. It is difficult for us to imagine the stories behind modern architecture because that architecture hasn't earned it's history yet. Think about these old structures. You see the dings and dents. You imagine and sometimes know the people who lived there. Sometimes those people are famous and you get a thrill knowing you are going up the same staircase that a Lincoln, a Grant or a Roosevelt used. Sometimes there are stories associated with those places, whether it be someone growing up or a deep love or even a death.

Modern architecture doesn't have some of that history, but some has started...think of Frank Lloyd Wright. His buildings were and still are considered modern.

I think the main reason though is we don't have the written history for these places any more. We are not as much of a hard paper society as we used to be. I wonder if that makes a difference?

Wow, did I get carried away...great post Carmi, I enjoy it as always.

Mike

Gyrobo said...

It's because modern buildings don't contain asbestos.

Lee Ann said...

I think the old Grand structures are so beautiful and ornate, that it is the type of architecture that we do not see in this day and age. The dings and scratches give it character, which automatically sparks a curiosty in me...when, how, who...and what was someone actually doing when this flaw was created.
Love this, so much!

srp said...

Only with the passage of time comes character. So, will modern architecture garnish the same feeling and thought?

Probably, but it might be confusing. Modern architecture is such a mixture of styles, many replications of the past... how are our ancestors to know what the REAL style was? The individual posts and baseboards will, however, have the similar dings and dents recording the history of small boys playing with toy cars and little girls with strollers or even perhaps a toy carpenter's tool kit. Modern architecture will have those memories engraved.

photowannabe said...

Like many have said , the new doesn't have the stories behind them yet and they haven't "aged" yet. There is just something about old wood that elicits emotions.

Tracy said...

Although I do enjoy some modern architecture, I prefer old. The craftsmanship is quality. Today, everything breaks so easily. Things long ago were made to stand the test of time. We live in such a disposable society today, and every aspect of our lives reflects that, unfortunately.

Anna said...

Because of mass production Carmi. Skilled craftsman used to spend hours and hours on their work which was greatly sought after....

Not anymore.

I love carved wood. It is beautiful. Nice shot.

Beverly said...

There are so many thoughtful comments here. It is hard to imagine that some of the new architecture would have the durability and stand the test of time as some of the older structures have done.

Here in Florida so much old stuff is torn down and replaced with "modern." I sometimes wonder what there heritage will be, with a Walgreen's on one corner and CVS on the other, competing for each other's business.

Thankfully some small communities have taken hold and begun to preserve what once was. As I posted before, our spring training field was kept near our downtown and designed to fit in with the area. That was a good thing.

Rambling...

TJ said...

There are a lot of old buildings in downtown LA that have hand carved crown mouldings, carved banisters. A lot of that work was done during the depression era by craftsman at a rate of probably less than 10 cents an hour.

That's what I think about when I look at the beautiful workmanship, the detail and the incredible amount of labor; the craftsman who were so desperate and grateful to have a job at a time when many were starving.

I doubt we'll see that kind of detail and workmanship in something as simple as a municipal building ever again. It's all about mass production, the bottom line and the cheapest materials.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

i think it's something to do with the past somehow shaping what we have become, part of some kind of mystical heritage...maybe

great shot

CG said...

In Liverpool there are two cathedrals; one modern in design and one traditional. One uses concrete and glass and light to beautiful effect; the other traditional sandstone.Neither are ancient although one looks it.I love them both for very different reasons. The interesting thing is the more modern design is not very durable.

talj said...

Interesting image! I agree that older architecture can really stir feelings that modern things cant...but then again, some modern buildings can blow us away!!

craziequeen said...

I see a child scuffing his boots against the newel post......

Perhaps a sullen child, sent to his room and resenting it?
A little boy who pulled his sister's plaits - or a little girl who broke her brother's trainset?

Will our current architecture get that kind of response......?
If it's standing - but then modern architecture seems almost - 'temporary'........

cq

Carolyn said...

Old architecture contains sweat, blood, laughter & soul of the human beings who designed and erected it. It had a pulse from day one. Modern architecture is prefabbed by a machine. It is virtually lifeless. That's my opinion anyway :)

Holly said...

Dear Carmi - you always find a way of pointing out the meaningful details. I think what makes the most meaning is in the use something gets. My kitchen table for example - it used to be shiny, new and perfect many years ago. Today it holds pencil marks from home work, paint marks from coloring and a million other perfect "memories" of time spent with my kids. I wouldn't trade it for a new unblemished one for all the money in the world. ;)

Hugs,
Holly

Debbie said...

I so know what you mean - my son took up the trade as a carpenter, he loves the smell and feel of REAL wood. He is working on refinishing a cedar chest that my grandfather made in high school - a piece of furniture that is so important to me. To watch him take his time and pride of his work is amazing - so though I love modern style of today - I like to think the past is always in our future.

kenju said...

Old-world craftsmanship, carvings of the masters, wood that speaks of history and the ages and makes you wonder who made that scratch and what was their story? Modern architecture can inspire, but not in the way that older buildings can. As someone said, maybe when they have been around for 100's of years....

Charles said...

Our society today is in a minimalism phase. We have a desire for simplicity because the daily pace of life has become so driven and complex we need to live in simple, clean environs to give us space. It's also driven by cost cutting, efficiencies and functionality. I'm not sure what they'll say 100 years from now. The pace at which everything changes, there might not be any of today's buildings still standing 100 years from now. Then they'll say, "Didn't they BUILD anything back then?"

tommiea said...

another interesting shot and a thoughtful question to boot! I love the old and rusty much more than all the new modern stuff.

archshrk said...

Hello, Michele sent me.

As an architect I must say that it's purely a financial reason current architecture looks like crap. It used to be that your identity was more closely tied to your architecture. Individuals, companies and institutions displaied their values and success through their architecture. Today, we do that through print and online media. Our webpages are our architecture.

leslie said...

Beautiful shot!

I think that old architecture calls to us because it has a story to tell. Stories that we can't possibly answer, only imagine.
I think that in the future, everyone will look at our architecture and do the same thing. Or maybe they will wonder what the hell we were doing!
I would have to agree with Mrs Fun, most buildings nowadays don't seem to have an aesthetic beauty to them because it all has to do with getting things done cheaply and fast.

Mr. Althouse said...

That's a good question. And perhaps after today's buildings become more weathered, they too will have stories to tell. It just seems as though nothing modern is built to last anymore. Its all got planned obsolescence built into it.

From Michele's... very late in your time-zone,

Mike

Lori Schmidt (LoriProPhoto) said...

Hi Carmi

Your pictures are very thought provoking and you and Anna have a thing with your lines LOL.

I think that today's architecture is very "sanitary", Everything has clean lines, probably somewhat because the less ornate the easier it is to keep clean, from a household point of view, and maybe the same for a business building. Also in days gone by things were made by hand individually not mass produced like they are today, and craftsment took a pride in what they made. Personally I think that the building of today, while they look impressive with all their chrome and glass are cold compared to the buildings of old with their character and history (like you looking at the bumps and scrapes and wondering). I dont think that in 100 years time half of the modern buildings will generate the same interest and wonder as the very old ones.

Lori

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

MJichele sent me back once again...LOL! If that staircase could tell you how many times it was kicked and by whom....Wouldn't that be wonderful! The history of anything like a house or staircase in the house that has been around for a long long time....Well, it is fascinating isn't it? I love this picture Carmi...What kind of Camera do you have?