Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Broken glass and great buildings

A funny little thing happened to me today at work. I imagine at some point I will feel the need for details of my work to escape, but for now it can be suppressed for the purpose of discourse.
Anyhow, I work in one of the shinier, newer, bigger, whiter, all-in-all better buildings recently constructed by the all knowledgeable institution of Manchester University. And against one glass wall of the white box, in which I spend a fair fraction of my time, is attached some rather old and rather beautiful glassware (there is a small and growing fascination with glass inside me). It was quite a spectacle, the light twisting this way and that through glass bent and bent again at another surface with lovely orbs and tubes. But today a door was shut and it all came crashing to the ground. As it happened I wasn’t around to witness the calamity and only observed the outcome, which was quite horrible.
And it occurred to me that all the walls shake when the doors are shut and make horribly unstable bangs. This is because the building has been created with one eye on it’s limited lifespan. Maybe this is because we have fostered an obsession with knowing how long things will be around for, and upon this the severe desire to control this outcome. I muttered to a colleague that, ‘Things used to be build to last 300 years and now they are made to last fewer than 30.’ But this isn’t true. The things which have lasted 300 years were never intended to last those 300 years. They were intended to last forever. Because when constructed they were conceived in the minds of those whose understanding was grounded in eternity, in heaven and perpetual existence. Saint Basil’s cathedral, Badshahi Masjid, Adare Manor; these were constructed to be magnificent, their demise was not considered because the assumption was that they will always stand.
Nowadays it seems as though the only thing that people wish to last forever is themselves, and the fear of this not being realised means that everything else must be made to feel relatively more temporary than they inevitably are.

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