Architect Turner Brooks came to speak in our lecture series last week. He was surprised to find out his work had been discussed that morning in my theory class, as part of a section on critical regionalism. He told me that he’s decidedly un-theoretically focused (though his brilliant wife, the architect and historian Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, certainly is). In response to the—shock I think it was—of being included in a theory class, he mentioned in his lecture that his favorite piece of reflective writing on architecture is Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, along with Franz Kakfa’s The Burrow, the latter of which he read with his undergraduate students, delighting in the increasingly crazed story arc of the neurotic auto-entomber. He showed slides of Goodnight Moon, one of the most movingly illustrated children’s books of all time, to talk about the relationship between the safe, small, cozy space of the home and the untamed wild of the infinite outside the window. Being able to speak to both simultaneously seems to be one of his aims, and I believe he’s succeeded.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Brooks’s architecture is his inclination towards intimacy. Intimacy in architecture, for me, is built space that’s radically personal. An archetypal example is the “ancestral reliquary” Brooks built into a house in Vermont. It’s a cabinet placed within the wall above the bed in the master bedroom filled with trinkets of little monetary value, Brooks says, but great personal significance. He showed a slide of three children enacting a play in which a ghost flies up to rest in the ancestral reliquary. Secret passageways fall into the same category, particularly if child-sized. Another example is this staircase built by Tom Luckey for his children, which becomes a slide.
Childhood is a particularly magical time for the creation of personal spatial archetypes. The “hidden space” is one of mine. In the drawing above, I try to depict the gap between our front door and the radiator in our hallway, a hidden, dariel-sized space I’d run to after getting out of the elevator where I’d wait for someone to unlock the door. The purpose was to be the first person inside after the door had barely cracked open, but looking back it was also nice to find a space that fit just me, and no other member of the family.