March 30, 2011

A Place Of My Own.

A Place of My Own,The Architecture of Daydreams, is an insightful book by author Michael Pollen. I am familiar with his well known publications The Omnivores Dilemma, In Defense Of Food, Food Rules, The Botany of Desire and Second Nature. His first book, A Place Of My Own, has recently been rereleased. I enjoyed this compelling story of process about the design and construction of a one room structure on his rural Connecticut property. This place was imagined for reading, writing and daydreaming, and was to be built with his own “two unhandy hands”. Being a writer and researcher, he shares his self directed education as he engages in the study of Architectural history, design theory, literature and philosophy, "from Vitrivius to Thoreau, from the Chinese masters of feng shui to the revolutionary Frank Lloyd Wright, Pollan brilliantly chronicles a realm of blueprints, joints and trusses as he peers into the ephemeral nature of “houseness” itself." He investigates the patterns of behavior that shape our environments and becomes an active participant in the design of this Imagined place with his Architect, Charlie. I especially enjoyed this aspect of the book; the element of discovery present as we travel with him on the path of his process. There is a very real awakening to the experience of a place and his defined priorities and program. "…I began to see that the real subject of these pictures was not architectural ideas or styles so much as architectural experiences. Each picture evoked what a particular kind of place or space felt like, they were poetic that way, and it was the sensual nature of each experience, more than any purely visulal or aesthetic details, that Charlie meant to call my attention to".  He comes to realize he will not only shape this environment, but it will shape him as well.

“A room of one’s own: is there anybody who hasn’t at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn’t turned those soft words over until they’d assumed a habitable shape?” I know I have. This story shares the process of making such a daydream real. Michael shares his journey, step by step through the architectural design and building process’. He makes a poignant statement about the connection to place which develops as a result of ones own problem solving, sweat, and labor.  He shares with us his experience of the senses which are a gift of actively engaging himself in the difficult work of building, such as digging and pouring footings, and mortising by hand with a chisel. I found one of the greatest things about this book was the reminder that life is about engaging in the experience of our environment. From working in the garden, to building a building, the will to experience, not expertise is the prerequisite.
As you might expect from Mr. Pollan's work on the topics of food, he is deeply rooted in the connection and responsibility we have in our relationship with our environment. In preparation for erecting his building, he ordered two, twenty-foot clear Douglas Fir posts, and shared the following insight about the magnitude of that experience. "Lumber is an abstraction- a euphemism, really. Though these logs had been squared up and dressed at the mill, it was impossible not to be conscious of them as trees-and not to feel at least slightly abashed at what had been done to them on my account".

As the project comes to successful completion, we share in Mr. Pollen's sense of accomplishment. "The part of me that was willing to wager something worthwhile could come of being alone in the woods with one's thoughts, in a place of one's own, of one's own making.  It was no longer a metaphor or a dream…"

All images and excerpts

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