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Weekly e-Gram for members and friends of Dublin Community Church

November 12, 2010

THE ARCHITECTURAL LAYMAN

I am kind of into Gothic Architecture these days. I want to learn a bit about it so that when I come across some Gothic Cathedrals I can say something more erudite than “Uh, wow!”

Friends pointed out a PBS program on Gothic Cathedral Architecture recently and I was able to watch it and now have a decent introductory foundation (no pun intended) for the complexity of said architecture.

But it was just enough to whet my appetite, so I looked online for books on Gothic Cathedrals. I considered David Macaulay’s Cathedral, which I bought for my daughters many years ago. Great drawings, just right for an architectural layman like myself. But, I found another book on sale, The Construction of the Gothic Cathedral: A Study in Medieval Vault Erection.

I knew what the “vault” was from my extensive viewing of the hour long PBS program and that it was one of the three key architectural features of the Gothic Cathedral (the other two which I have now forgotten). I bought it. It arrived.

I had high hopes for it (no pun intended) and then came across this paragraph in the first page Forward, written by the Executive Director of some architectural institute (he had lots of initials and abbreviations after his name too):

At a time when we seem to be surfeited with the oblique, the esoteric, hollow profundities, self-conscious pontifications and the exploitation of egos, it is most refreshing to come upon a good straightforward scholarly report on this truly fascinating subject.

That paragraph was so refreshing and straightforward that I headed straight for the dictionary to look up four of the words in that sentence. I knew I was in for a difficult read. I looked over the rest of the page and another Architectural President (he also, with lots of initials behind his name) wrote about how this book in my hands could “be revealing to the Architect concerning the designer’s vision”… and “Engineers would be impressed by the empirical rational of the Gothic builders”… and “the layman – students and travelers alike- can learn from… the pictures.”

Ok, I get it… all I, as an “Architectural Layman” can do is look at the pictures. I sensed I was out of my depth. I used to work for a blue printer back in my high school days – a few years in the past, to be sure, but not quite the Gothic era. I would cut the rolls of blueprints and assemble them and bind them and deliver them (driving my boss’s cool Chevy around town listening to the radio and getting paid $2/hr) to architects in the city.

I recall the tools of the architects’ trade. They were smart, ingenious men (and they were all men back then in my city) and I admired their work. So recently I asked an architect friend if they still used drawing tables and compasses and rulers and blueprints.

I might as well have asked Boeing if they were still designing the bi-plane, or the Boston Celtics if any of their guys still executed the Sky Hook. Anyway, my friend was cool and said without even a trace of sarcasm, “Uh, no Bob. Computers.” Even though I was only four decades behind the times in Architectural awareness, I managed to look like I suspected that computers might play a small role in modern architecture.

Recently, I have found myself reading a novel by Ken Follett, Pillars of the Earth, about the building of a Gothic Cathedral in 13th century Europe. It’s fascinating and since I was a layman and will have to content myself with pictures in more scholarly books, a great gothic novel about cathedrals may be the best way for me to be introduced to that era. Actually I read this book 20 years ago. It’s about 800 pages and I read it in 3 weeks and today I find that I remember absolutely nothing of the story, so it’s rather fun reading again. I guess I read it too fast. It’s sort of the literary equivalent of eating a pound of cashews during an exciting Super Bowl game and not remembering a thing of what you ate. I do recall that the book was about the building of a Gothic Cathedral but the other 799 pages are a blur.

So, The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals (with pictures…for the Architectural Layman) will probably only grace the shelves of my library. I doubt I will get too far in it.

Perhaps I should have stuck with my first thought…of ordering the David Macaulay children’s book of drawings on the building of a Medieval Cathedral. That much I can understand.

Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing

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