A new vision of building — making living structure in our brutal world
We cannot make the world over. We must accept our world, and within it, make our beings, in a fashion consistent with this world, and its demands, and its harsh realities.
In Chartres, the beings were not only seen and felt — they were made actual in the stones of the church, in the interval of silence in the footfalls within the church, in the glass, in the rooftrees, and in the hinges of the doors. That we do no have in our time. And, I believe it is not appropriate, it is nearly impossible for us, in our time, to have this perfection in light of the harsh cruelty of the world, the overpopulation of our planet, the inhumanity we are aware of, the unfairness inherent in money and education.
Strangely, I believe the beauty of the world is almost more touching, more profound, if this harsh, ugly world of ours, is married, mixed, with the more perfect world in which the beings are fully living. I believe that it is possible for us to create a world, less perfect than the world of Chartres, but perhaps even more true, in which both ugliness and beauty are reconciled.
It must not be forgotten just how hard this is. At Chartres, the stones, the hair of the statue, the beautifully shaped triangles on the buttress, the foot of the column, the ornament on the belt of the statue, the glass, the individual pieces of glass, the roundels, the carvings in the ornament — each one is worked and worked until it is full of feeling and until, then, the self-like character is very deep. This is hard won. It does not come easy. But when it happens a living thing is made. And this comes, above all, from the impulse we call ornament: to fill living space. Above all, then, a building is an ornament.
This statement is difficult to grasp since, in the last two centuries, we have become used to thinking of an ornament as something trivial.
What I mean is that this sense of ornament — a profound, organized object reaching to heaven — applies equally to a functional object: to a freeway, or to a car, or to a flower which is a living thing. There the word “ornament” is a profound comment on the contribution which something makes to the world, through its order and its relation to the world. When I take all that and summarize it in the statement, “A building is an ornament”, we get close to the meaning I have in mind. In this sense, the living centers, the structure of living self-like centers, created by the fifteen properties, is the utmost that a building can provide.