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Building a House - Distinctions Between Ethics and Architecture


When in the evening, Paul's report of the lesson was read in the family circle, M. de Gandelau interrupted the reading at this phrase incorrectly given,"Good is only the absence of evil." "Oh, oh !"said his father;"Charity is something more than the absence of evil. If you give nothing to the poor man who asks bread of you; if, being able to swim, you do not try to save a drowning man, you do not do evil, but certainly you do not do good." "That is not exactly what I said to Paul,"replied Eugene, smiling. "Respecting defects discovered in building, I said, I believe that the good is the absence of the bad; ' that is to say, in building operations, and perhaps in many other matters belonging to the purely material order of things, to avoid what is bad is to do well, but not to do good. I must, however, admit that I did not sufficiently develop my thought.

"Two things are needed to make a good builder : clear sighted intelligence - which depends on our individual psychical nature - and the experience we acquire.

"Observation and experience thence resulting enable us to recognize what is defective and to avoid it; but if, notwithstanding the advantage thence derived, we are not endowed by nature with clear-sighted intelligence, experience, though enabling us to avoid the bad, does not of itself suffice for the discovery of the good.

"Moreover, though in morals the good is absolute and independent of circumstances, it is not the same with building. What is good here is bad elsewhere, on account of climate, habits, nature of materials, and the way in which they are affected by local circumstances. While,

for instance, it is desirable to cover a roof with slates in a temperate and humid climate, this kind of roofing is objectionable in a warm, dry, and windy climate. Wooden buildings will be excellent in one situation and unsuitable in others. While it is desirable to admit the light by wide openings and to glaze large surfaces in northern climates, because the sun's glare is subdued, this would be objection able in southern countries, where the light is intense, and where it is necessary to procure shelter from the heat. A code of morals is possible, but we cannot establish abso lute rules in building; experience, reasoning, and reflection must therefore always be summoned to our aid when we attempt to build. Very often young architects have asked me what treatise on building I should recommend as the best. There is none, I tell them; because a treatise can not anticipate all contingencies, - all the special circum stances that present themselves in the experience of an architect. A treatise lays down rules; but ninety-nine times out of a hundred you to encounter the ex ception and cannot rely upon the rule. A treatise on building is useful in habituating the mind to devise plans and have them put into execution according to certain methods; it gives you the means of solving the problems proposed; but it does not actually solve them, or at least only solves one in a thousand. It is then for intelligence to supply in the thousand cases presented what the rule cannot provide for."

experience, bad, treatise, avoid and nature