|Light and Shade, Walls and Space|
|There was a time in our past when one could walk down any street and be surrounded by harmonious buildings. Such a street wasn’t perfect, it wasn't necessarily even pretty, but it was alive. The old buildings smiled, while our new buildings are faceless. The old buildings sang, while the buildings of our age have no music in them.
The designers of the past succeeded easily where most today fail because they saw something different when they looked at a building. They saw a pattern in light and shade. When they let pattern guide them, they opened their ability to make forms of rich complexity. The forms they made began to dance.
About a hundred and sixty years ago, early in the Victorian age, the old way of seeing began to go out of American design. With it went the magic, and with the magic went the old feeling of being in a real place. Only a few specialists retained the creative gift that had once been commonplace; a few scholars studied and preserved the ancient principles.
We live now in the world Victorian inventors dreamed of, the world of flying machines, automobiles, and hundred-story buildings. But unlike the Victorians, or even the Americans of forty years ago, we are jaded; we disbelieve their dream. We are far from thrilled at the prospect of the next big new building; we do not believe the latest style is the real thing at last. What is our dream? It is the dream of a magic world, a real world that comes alive.
The difference between our age and the past is in our way of seeing. Everywhere in the buildings of the past is relationship among parts: contrast, tension, balance. Compare the buildings of today and we see no such patterns. We see fragmentation, mismatched systems, uncertainty. This disintegration tends to produce not ugliness so much as dullness, and an impression of unreality.
The principles that underlie harmonious design are found everywhere and in every time before our own; they are the historic norm. They are the same in the eighteenth-century houses of Newburyport, Massachusetts, in the buildings of old Japan, in Italian villages, in the cathedrals of France, in the ruins of the Yucatan. The same kinds of patterns organize Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House and Michelangelo's Capitol. The disharmony we see around us is the exception.
If a building makes us light up, it is not because we see order; any row of file cabinets is ordered. What we recognize and love is the same kind of pattern we see in every face, the pattern of our own life form. The same principles apply to buildings that apply to mollusks, birds, or trees. Architecture is the play of patterns derived from nature and ourselves.