Shifting Baselineson April 27, 2012 @ 2:27 pm (Updated: 11:10 am - 4/30/12 )
Shifting baselines is a term many of you may not have heard of. Daniel Pauly first elucidated the idea of shifting baselines in a 1995 Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper. He wrote about the gradual accommodation of the disappearance of fish species, how each generation of fishers and marine scientists assumed that the current population of fish was the norm. What those fishers and scientists didn't know is what they assumed was normal was already tampered with. We, in the age of instant gratification, have forgotten that there were once real Craftsman Homes to be had.
Now I'm not accusing anyone of pulling a bait and switch when they sell a newly built "Craftsman Home". There are plenty of real nice craftsman "style" homes out there. But I know what real craftsmen can do and they ain't it! There's a real art to any craft. Yes, you and I could be crafty, go down to the hardware store, and grab a gallon of paint, sling it around our living room and it'd be passable. I'm not talking about passable. I'm talking about what's possible. I'm talking about a real baseline.
Now I'm not saying you should pay Leonardo to come paint the Last Supper on your wall, I'm talking about having a pro ply his/her craft to a job and make it look artful. If ever there was a work of art that you could live in, it's the Gamble House in Pasadena California. In 1911, with their attention to detail, their knowledge of their craft and their eye for the artful, the Green brothers, who were the architects, and the craftsmen they hired, created a work of art rivaling anything ever hung on a wall.
Light hanging on the Gamble House in Pasadena, California.
Speaking of hanging stuff on walls, I submit these two photos as evidence for their attention to detail. If you look close at the photo of the handing light, look at the bolts on the wall. If you'll notice first these are real lag bolts that are holding that light up. Not just a nice detail someone glued on. Keep looking. Notice that the bolts are precisely laid out to create symmetry. Keep looking. Did you see that the heads on those bolts are square? Did you notice that they are all turned so the flat sides are all perfectly level with each of the others? That's just four bolts holding the light by the front door up. Are you starting to see what I mean when I say attention to detail?
Take a look at the door next. Did you notice the wood it was constructed of? If you can't tell, that's tiger maple. In case you didn't know tiger maple is so rare it is usually reserved for building furniture and instruments. Les Paul was famous for using tiger maple in the bodies of his guitars.
A tiger maple door.
That's not a veneer on that door. That's full dimension tiger maple through and through. Now take another look at the door. If this won't blow your mind, I don't know what will. That is an outside door! Is it the front door where all our guests will see? Or is it the back door, where we might be entertaining on the deck or patio and everyone will notice? It's an insignificant side door leading to a small study, where mainly only the tenant of the study may see it. It should beg the question, if they spent that kind of time on an insignificant side door, what do the things that really count look like? The Green Brothers were known for their impact on the arts and crafts movement in design. The term 'bringing the outdoors in' is batted around a lot. I think it falls short of what they accomplished. Saying the Greens brought the outdoors in is like saying 'Picasso painted stuff.'
Charles and Henry Green were architects with degrees from MIT. Some might say that it's no surprise they did so well with an education like that. However, I submit that it wasn't MIT degrees that made these men, it was their childhood. Their father, a doctor, demanded that they learn a trade of some sort. Even though it was a forgone conclusion that they would go on to school, their father said when society goes to hell, the first to the gallows are the academics and artists. Lucky for us they chose the building trades. They arrived at MIT as journeymen crafts men. And it was that, that set them and their work in architecture apart.
The staircase in the entry hall at the Gamble House in Pasadena, California.
This staircase in the entry hall says it all for me. This photo doesn't do it justice. The Greens used form and function and lifted the space we live in to something ethereal. Like living in a fine instrument, no sour notes. The way the hand rail flows with the steps, those handrails cut from a single piece of wood, the steps jointed together not just for strength, but for looks and symmetry as well.
Take a close look at the whole structure of this stair case. The treads of the steps, the railing, the batons holding the railing up and if you didn't see in this photo, look at the upper right hand corner. There are actually two 90 degree turns it makes before it hits the top landing. Now think on this, not one nail. No glue. It has had nothing but the art of the craftsman and his knowledge of jointers to hold it all together for over one hundred years.
It looks like it was finished yesterday. That's real art. That's real craft. That's a real baseline!
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