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Building a House - Observations


Paul, with his head bent over the paper covered with sketches, and his hands between his knees, could not help thinking, for his part, that his cousin was covering a good deal of paper in making ceilings, whereas they had always seemed to him the simplest thing in the world, and the least susceptible of complication. In his own mind, in fact, Paul made scarcely any distinction between a sheet of paper stretched on a board, and a ceiling. So when Eugene had repeated the phrase,"Is it quite clear to you?"Paul hesitated a little, and said,"I think so,"adding, after a pause "But, cousin, why not make floors and ceilings as they do everywhere else?" "It seems to you a complicated affair, my dear fellow,"replied Eugene,"and you would like to simplify the matter." "It is not exactly that,"rejoined Paul;"but how do they manage it generally; do they employ all these con trivances? I have not seen what you call bearers, and trimmer-joists, and trimmers and corbels, in any of the ceilings I am acquainted with. It is possible, then, to dispense with them, is it not?" "None of these appliances are dispensed with in ceilings of carpentry work, but they are concealed by a coat of plaster; and, as I was telling you just now, this covering of plaster is one of the causes of the decay of wooden floorings. In all these floorings there are trimmer-joists and trimmers next the flues and hearths; sometimes there are also bearers. All this is bound together by iron work, to form a rigid framing between two plane surfaces with as little space as possible between them. In Paris, where the houses are very dry, this method is still allow able; but in the country it is difficult to obviate the damp, and inclosed ceilings of this kind run the risk of soon fall ing into decay. The timbers must be exposed to the air, (I say once more) if we would preserve them. This framework of wooden floorings exists in all that are con structed with these materials, only you do not see it. Now it is desirable in architecture to make use of the necessities of the construction as a means of decoration, and frankly to acknowledge those necessities. There is nothing discreditable in allowing them to be seen; and it is a mark of good taste, good sense and knowledge, to exhibit them by making them contribute to the decora tion of the work. In fact, to people of good taste and good sense, this is the only kind of decoration that is satisfactory, because it alone is suggested by the re quirements.

"We have accustomed ourselves in France to decide everything, but especially questions of Art, by what is called sentiment. This is a convenient state of things for many persons, who presume to talk about Art without having ever had a pair of compasses, a pencil, a modelling tool, or a paint-brush in their hands; and professional men have gradually lost the habit of reasoning, finding it easier to take refuge in the conclusions of those amateurs who fill pages while really saying nothing to the purpose, and in so doing flatter the taste of the public while perverting it. Little by little, architects themselves, who of all artists should make good use of reasoning in their con ceptions, have acquired the habit of concerning them selves only with appearances, and no longer trying to make these harmonize with the necessities of the struc ture. At last these necessities have come to be looked at by them as annoyances; they have concealed them so completely, that the skeleton of an edifiCe - if I may so call it - is no longer in harmony with the dress it puts on.

We see on the one hand a structure, - often left to the mercy of contractors, who manage it as best they can, but naturally in subservience to their own interests, - on the other hand a form which indifferently suits that struc ture. With your permission, then, we will not follow this example, but will produce a building, unassuming it may be, yet one in which not a detail shall be found that is not the result either of a necessity of the structure or of the requirements of its occupants. It will not cost us more on that account; and when the work is completed, we shall rest satisfied that there has been nothing disguised nor factitious, nor useless, in what we have produced, and that the architectural organism we have built will always allow us to see its organs, and how these organs perform their functions." "How is it, then,"rejoined Paul,"that so many archi tects do not show (as you propose to do here) those neces sities of the construction, but disguise them? Why do they act in that way? Who obliges them to do so?" "It would take a long time to explain that to you." M. de Gandelau entered at these last words of the conversation.

"We have worse and worse news,"said he."The German armies are spreading everywhere; we must expect to see the enemy here. Poor France !... But what were you saying?" "Nothing,"replied Eugene,"that can have any interest in presence of our disasters.... I was trying to make Paul understand that in architecture we should not dis guise any of the means of construction, and that it is even in the interest of this art to avail itself of them as a basis for decoration; that, in a word, we should be sincere, that we should reason and trust only to ourselves---" "Certainly !"rejoined M. de Gandelau,"you lay your finger on our plague-spot as a nation-- To reason, to trust only to ourselves, to get a clear idea of everything and of every fact by study and labour, to leave nothing to chance, to disguise nothing from one's self or from others; not to take phrases for facts not to fancy ourselves protected by tradition or routine-- Yes, this is what we should have done-- It is too late, and who can tell whether, after the misfortunes which I anticipate, our country will recover enough elasticity, patience, and wisdom to leave sentiment and keep to reason and serious work ! Try to teach Paul to reason, to habituate himself to method, to acquire a love for mental labour; and whether he becomes an architect, an engineer, a soldier, a manufac turer, or an agriculturist like myself, you will haire rendered him the most valuable service. Above all, may he never become a mere half-savant, half-artist, or a half-practitioner in any department - writing or talking about everything, but incapable of doing anything himself. Work ! The more sinister the character of the news we receive, - the more heavily they weigh upon our hearts, - the more ener getically should we give ourselves to useful and practical labour. Lamentations are to no purpose. Work !" "Let us go and look at the building,"said Eugene, who saw that Paul continued in a meditative mood, and was scarcely inclined to set to work again.

ceilings, paul, necessities, reason and little