Friday, August 28, 2009

Circular Living


I knew the class was going to be a challenge when I took it. Avant-garde architecture always is. How can a mere freshman emerge as the new Frank Loyd Wright, Louis Kahn or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe of his time in just one class?

But I signed up anyway, hoping that my passion, lack of constrictive cynicism, and plain old blind faith would lead the way to new ground. I’ll admit, I had dreams of taking the instructor’s breath away with my first assignment by drafting a piece so innovative that words would fail to describe it.

What I ended up with was a rounded-off cylinder.

The assignment had been to construct a house, suitable for living, with no right angels. It had to be utilitarian with all the normal spaces for storage, stairwells, bathrooms and closets. But you couldn’t use any right angles.

I started off drafting a simple two-story box shaped thing and then started cutting off the corners. At first it seemed deceptively simple- just cut the corners, no pun intended, and you’re done. It was when I tried to figure out all the damned utilities that things got screwy. Constructing a staircase with no right angles that is structurally sound is about as easy as finding a microscopic ant in the Amazon. And a plain old spiral staircase wouldn’t work with the structure. So I started cutting corners off the cut corners, spiraling inwards in an octagonal, then decagonal, then dodecagonal, then hexadecagonal, and finally icosagonal fashion until I was dealing with nothing but circles.

The storage spaces became circular crawl spaces. The hallways folded in on themselves. The rooms became too round to fit any real furniture. And the whole structure began to resemble and 8th grade geometry equation I’d remembered having a lot of trouble with.

By 3am I’d given up on conceiving of anything habitable and just gave up, assuming I’d chalk the whole experience up to learning. I brought it into my instructor expecting a raised eyebrow and a knowing “harder than it looks, huh?”

Instead he just handed it back with a comment at the top saying “What about the plumbing?”

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