Tuesday, November 05, 2019
i came to the garden alone
While sitting in my patio surrounded by flowers that bloom year-round, I imagined the meeting of two architects to discuss what constituted a perfect home, on a similar sunny day in Andalusia in 712 AD.
One was a Roman; the other a Moor. Both were conquerors and colonizers, and they did what imperialists do best -- they were do-gooders out to improve the lives of the tribes on the Iberian peninsula.
"The perfect home," said the Roman, "is the plural domūs -- a house that looks inwardly without exterior windows built around a central atrium, open to the sky for natural light, with all of the rooms leading onto the atrium. A place where the family is the center of all life."
"What you say is good," said the Moor. "A home must reflect the poetic sense of the universe. We live our lives around the edges of the central atrium. But you are too practical, Roman. You have the soul of a tradesman.
"The atrium is not an agora for the unworthy chatter of children, fishwives, and merchants. It is the very essence of paradise on earth. A garden filled with the blessings of God and the water that nourishes our very being. It is what our souls seek -- to be reunited with the presence of God in that first garden. That, Roman, is a perfect home."
"All right, then," responded the Roman, "we seem to have a plan for the perfect home. A windowless house with rooms built around a garden filled with trees and stuff and some water. How much money do you think we can make off of each unit?"
"I weep for you, Roman."
Of course, there was never any such conversation. The imperial Romans had been forcibly melded with the Visigoths before the Moors conquered what we now know as Spain in seven short years -- 711-718.
What we do know is that Roman and Moorish architecture merged into a distinctive Hispanic form that can even be seen in Mexico. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, they brought their notions of what the perfect house should look like. Formidable fronts facing the street with a central patio featuring some form of water pool. Even some modest Mexican homes reflect that style.
In the twentieth century along came one of Mexico's greatest architects, Luis Barragán, with his nationalistic version of the European modernist movement led by Le Corbusier. But rather than function following form, he rejected the mechanistic attitudes of the minimalists.
His would be an architecture based on Latin passion. He revived the old elements of Roman-Moorish architecture to create inward-looking homes, usually windowless, that were centered around a garden patio (always with water). Even though not all of his rooms were atrium-centered, the atrium and its natural light was always the soul of the home. And the lines of the home would define its spatial presence.
It was those lines that resonated with me when I first saw the house with no name. It is not a Barragán-designed home. But it is a Barragán-ish home. In my first fifteen minutes in the house, I knew it would be mine.
And it has served me well for five years now. And just as the Moor predicted, it is in my patio sitting amongst my cup of gold vines and the heliconia that look as if they were bred for residents of Tralfamadore that I find what we Quakers call peace at the center.
My wish for you today is that you can say the same wherever you are.