Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   whole additional bedroom of understanding
Saturday, February 13 1999
You know I fight with my girlfriend nearly every day. We fought again, but the details are boring. Somehow out of this came a new understanding. I can love this girl, and she can detach a bit. That's the understanding. I want you... show me the way. Day after day.
In Mission Beach, while we were driving up to La Jolla, that upscale rocky protuberance projecting into the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego, I saw an enormous California state flag flying upside down. "What was the occasion?" I wanted to know. But, sadly, this was just an accident and the person flying the flag was already bringing it down to do it the right way, the pre-ordained way, the boring way.
In keeping with our renewed resolution of frugality, we ate lunch at the Jack in the Box in La Jolla. "Is this my Valentine's Dinner?" Kim asked. "Yes," I said, "for you, only the best Jack in the Box will do, the La Jolla Jack in the Box."

a fascinating vernacular architecture book

We went into a small strange little bookstore. It was the kind that was strange enough to have a cat sunning itself in the window, but ordinary enough to have an employee ask us if we needed help. We didn't. It was clear that their collection of bird field guides would never tell me the name of the tawny goose with the black bulb at the base of its nose. In this realm of research, even the world wide web had failed me.
But there was a book in this bookstore that may well change my life. It was called How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. The title drew me to it immediately. It was the sort of title that calls out across the void of reason so common in this world, so common in the domestic outing. I opened it and it's words found instant resonance with my craving for theories to explain the obvious. Why do buildings come and go, change function and fade away? What is their place in the urban fabric. What of their inherent conservatism? It's hard to change brick and mortar, though constantly changing circumstances demand it. This from the acknowledgements bonded me to the book irrevocably:

"Porches fill in by stages, not all at once you know." The architect was responding to a talk I gave at a builders' conference. "The family puts screens on the porch one summer because of the bugs. Then they see they could glass it in and make it part of the house. But it's cold so they add a duct from the furnace and some insulation, and now they realize they're going to have to beef up the foundation and the roof. It happens that way because they can always visualize the next stage based on what's already there."

That was sheer brilliance being acknowledged. I had to have this book. So I had Kim buy it for me as a premature birthday present.
Later, at home, I came upon this line:

First we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them -ad infinitum.

That was the overall thesis of the book, and it was expanded and articulated in many different ways, borrowing from many disciplines including ecology, economics, urban planning, sociology, and materials science. Far from pretentious, the book had a refreshingly straightforward honesty about it. It criticized zoning boards and historical preservationists for ignoring the sordid reality that all people want to expand their living spaces in incremental ways, and that this is the primary force driving construction in the world, not architecture, not urban planning. As for architects, Brand critiqued them on many fronts. The obvious fact that art and utility can never co-exist in harmony but are illogically forced together anyway was the basis for Brand's critique of architecture's current status as a discipline. In reading this critique, I learned a lot of sad truths about architecture. For example, architecture awards are routine given to an architect based only on photographs of a building, with no concern given to the actual functionality of that building. Thus a famous architect is free to pepper the cities and countryside of the world with award-winning buildings which the occupants despise and occasionally even have to abandon. Well I recall the problems encountered with King academic building and the Conservatory at Oberlin College. They were built to resemble wedding cakes, but their walls didn't match up at the corners and they suffered terrible leaks. I forget the name of the Japanese architect who designed them, but he's no less famous for saddling Oberlin with these multi-million dollar lemons. Did you know know that Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings universally suffer from severe leaks? Wright himself once casually dismissed the problem of leaks with the statement "that's how you can tell it's a roof." I've always been suspicious of the flat rooves of modern office buildings, and in How Buildings Learn my suspicion is fully justified. It turns out that 78% of flat-rooved buildings leak.
It was this sort of information: the bankruptcy of the discipline architecture, combined with the straightforward logic explaining vernacular architecture (the unsung process that actually builds and changes buildings) that fascinated me so much. It was tapping into theories that had sat semi-formulated in my head for years. I'd seen additions go up on buildings, from run-down trailers to prestigious Chemistry lab buildings. I've even had a hand in some of those additions myself. I've always had a sense that there was an underlying order to this process. This book fleshed out and explained that order. I'll never again look at a ramshackled dwelling with the same eyes.

floorplan of my childhood home

The red rectangle represents the original house from the mid 1940s. Around this, additions were made over the subsequent decades. Where the red line crossed through the kitchen is the site of a hump that has never been successfully eliminated. Also, the floor level goes down some six inches between from the rooms of the old house to the three rooms of the addition built on the southwest side (to the right).

The sideview of the my childhood home viewed from the northeast. Note the underlying dual-slope roof and the unifying single-slope roof above it, which my father and I added in the mid-80s.

I thought about my childhood home, which lies in the hilly terrain 5 miles south of Staunton, Virginia. It was supposedly built in the 1940s by a childless couple. Through the years it has been the home of a number of families, the largest of which, the Roadcaps, had some six children. Remarkably, the house only has 750 square feet of indoor liveable space. I remember the strange dual foundation beneath it, an inner one made of concrete-mortared rocks, and an outer one made of concrete blocks. This pattern was repeated in the attic, which was segmented by walls corresponding to the inner foundation in the basement. These segmentations clearly pointed to additions made to the house, though for the most part the house was a cohesive whole. Still, the legacy of those piecemeal additions has plagued my family ever since we moved into the house from suburban Maryland back in 1976. For example, there was always an annoying ridge passing through the middle of the kitchen floor, corresponding with a change in the height of the ceiling. When my Dad got around to replacing the linoleum floor with linoleum tiles in the early 80s, he first had to attack this ridge. But he was never able to completely level it; the underlying foundation stones made a hump in the floor no matter how he shaved, sawed and chiseled. Similarly, a change in the slope of the roof caused leaking in the outer parts of the house. Eventually my father and I put an entirely new roof on the house to unify the slopes and arrest the leaks.

Fancis Bacon Exhibit

While in La Jolla, Kim and I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Francis Bacon exhibit. It featured Bacon's entire Pope series, which is based on a painting of Pope Innocent the something by Velazquez. Seeing the photographs of the artist's studio and watching z videotape of an interview with the artist himself wer both inspirational for my own artistic inclinations, which have been sadly dormant now for months. I looked at the paintings of the Pope series up close and saw that they were largely comprised of thin washes of oil paint on a brown-tinted canvas. The strokes were all large and bold, without much reworking, except in the details of the face. Here the paint had been applied meticulously and thickly and then pulled in some direction wholesale by a large brush, as if to humiliate the image. The images were all violated in this way, in a way I could never bring myself to do. Clearly this Bacon has unusual abusive tendencies of a kind I do not share. But he needs them to do his sort of art. Indeed, I'd have to say I've always liked Bacon's blending of the real and the abstract, the orderly and the chaotic.

Kim and I sat for a time on the edge of a low cliff above a sandy cove on the ocean shore. Below us there were various people cavorting in the water, strolling on the shoreline and sitting on towels on the beach. I delighted in whispering rude comments to Kim about a guy with a vintage haircut from 1982. His big barrel chest stuck out in a seemingly forced way as he walked hand in hand with his shapely, thin girlfriend, of whom he seemed most proud.
Kim had her dress hiked up most of the way so she could sun her legs and she asked me if anyone down below could see her panties. I said that it didn't really matter, that girls are supposed to show their panties every now and then for the benefit of mankind.

Since it's now the romantic season of Valentines, it's also crunch time at Victoria Rose, the ever-romantic Victorian massage spa where Kim works. She had a long night ahead of her, and I was free to wander the streets alone. I walked down to Newport and bought three used CDs: Sepultura's Arise (a personal favourite from the early 90s), Dinosaur Jr.'s You're Living All Over Me from 1987 - it has Lou Barlow on it, and the Fixx's Calm Animals from 1988 (which I only bought for the song "Driven Out" - the others suck I'm sad to say). Used CDs are expensive here in Ocean Beach, a full 30% more expensive than they were in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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