|Patrick Kennedy and Duffy Hoffman at IPTW 2011, Lancaster, PA|
While recently at the IPTW in a conversation in line for dinner I was reminded of a passage I had once read in a book that described the history of the profession of architecture in America. We had been talking about the trend for specifications for things like mortar mixes to go from one sentence in the old days to several pages these days.
It seems that there are so many reasons in our modern culture to not trust each other and to not bother to get to know each other before we are all thrown in to work together... or as the case may be enough of the time to not work very well together at all. Obviously we need more instructions because they keep us insulated like a wall of granite away from the messiness to engage with each other face to face in the field in any sort of an harmonious work team.
Is it much better that there be a gap and a construction bible that tells us so?
“Accounts of building collapses caused by the shoddy work of unscrupulous builders and speculators filled the pages of the first professional architectural journals. The subtext was the promotion of the architectural profession as the only safe¬guard against incidents like the collapse of a Massachusetts mill in the 186os where the builder had used sand rather than mortar. A verse entitled "Death, the Builder" in the Architects' and Mechanics' Journal for 1860 attacked speculators and builders who maximized their profits and endangered the public with flimsy construction. Accompanying the verses was a drawing of a building mason as the grim reaper who serves the "lords of enterprise" by making the wall look strong; the blood and bones of his victims ultimately bind the wall. In the background the speculator, Shylockian with his greasy hair and hooked nose, turns away, clutching his bag of coins. Builders were responsible, the professional press also reported, for illness as well as injury and death. The American Architect and Building News published an account of a builder who refused to spend three hundred dollars to connect soil pipes to street drains. As a result, raw sewage discharged into the party walls, spreading illness throughout an entire residential block. Meanwhile, speculative builders who used architects' plans for their residential developments and discountenanced such deadly economics earned praise from the American Architect editors.” From Craft to Profession, The Practice of Architecture in Nineteenth-Century America, Mary N. Woods, p 150.
I was raised in a family of trades and though the schools did their best to dissuade me from pursuit of a building trade my natural inclination to build, and to read books and think for myself, won out in the long run.
Something that comes up quite often, particularly when I am around architects that fancy they are a separate form of human from the trades, and when they get into a gaggle of a group, invariably there is the pronouncement that there is a GAP between the architectural professions and the building trades. What I have come to understand from a lifetime of experience is that there is no gap at all, but there is a need for some people to make out that there is a gap as they have a career investment to make up a difference where in point of fact there is none.
Without a GAP, and a really big one that is to behold grand and magnificent with balloons and frilled lightning struck whistle moonshine bubbling a brass band and confetti streaming out of their earballs they are empty husks like the Nowhere Man.
Mary Woods has more to say in her book on the subject of a need for a gap than the above paragraph.
But it is the self-serving propaganda to paint the builders and contractors as louts who would not use mortar but sand to build a masonry building, in the 19th century this was promoted in public media no less, it is the one fact from the long book that has welded itself to my brainpan. Since reading this book in 1999, and writing a review of it for the APTI Bulletin (it has the word CRAFT in it and I think they sent it me to review by mistake), my observation of this need of some people to promote a gap has stuck with me to want to figure it out. Do they need help? Is there a cure?
The way this gap myth operates is that once in a while someone falls in to believe that there is a gap and if they are sweet folks they try to do up some anxious remedy about it. Often enough this consists to start a project to put together a manual on how to build a thing... a thing maybe like stone walls or a log synagogue.
The focus is on what the trades do with their hands, their tools and their materials. Some discerning person will always jump up and say, “Oh, but she lands her hammer at the wrong angle and she should turn it ¾ of a degree at the 15th second of the swing.” What those who try to erase the gap end up doing in a focus on tools, techniques and materials is that they make the non-gap look even more like an expansive wide yawning earthquake tsunami volcanic irradiated gap that can never ever be bridged... for the fact that the poor architect probably does not even know how to hold a hammer, let alone swing it and hit a nail without bending it over. Why make them feel bad by pointing out their lesser talents? Why make them stress their imagination to pretend that they are armchair blacksmiths?
Or, maybe the trades need a gap cross-over book that shows how to draw a line with AutoCAD. Would this serve much better than to read an autobiography?
Yet there is really no reason to single out the physically challenged as being less worthy as long as they stop with the pretension that there is a gap.
Where it all vanishes though is when we get to know each other as people -- which is what really happens at an IPTW despite however much anyone may actually try to learn how to solder a copper seam properly. In the hot sun we share bottles of cold water. In the evening we share bottles... and bowls of salted almonds. It is this gathering of community, architects and trades all dressed in grub, where we come to understand that we don’t need no stinkin’ gap. That time when we suddenly all realize that we are here on the planet on the same day under the same sun as each other and that if we work together with our unique and individual differences of character and personality and common interest to fix old buildings good that so much more interesting things can be accomplished.
As they say on the Subway, "Watch the gap."