Saturday, August 18, 2012

Modern design in a traditional Catholic home.

I buy mass produced standardized 4'x8' sheets of .75" birch veneer plywood and rip them down to 9.5" wide lengths, and run one long edge of each through a shaper for an ogee shaped edge. I cut them to length, (5) at 27",(2) at 28.5", and (2) at 69", and assemble them with 2.5" deck screws, and I'm done.

The book shelves meet all the qualifications of modern design, which is a type of design that developed out of a progressive world view. The books that sit upon them are not modern, as in not progressive. They're the kind of books progressives delight in burning.

The book shelves as well as the books are both used by us to form our children. The books are chosen to teach a multitude of lessons. The book shelves teach the loveliness of simplicity.

What I do is look at the design itself and see the good that can be found in the design because some aspects of modern design are at human scale, while other aspects are not.

the axiom, "Ornament is a crime", may be wrong in principle, but modern design's movement away from dressing up architecture the way the lower orders dress up their little girls for first holy communion in boundless yards of cheap synthetic lace was correct in direction. That the modern movement went too far reducing buildings to inhospitable sterile sheets of steel, concrete, and glass is an error common to all enthusiasts, and does not mean that human scale cannot be found when using modern design in moderation.

"Truth to materials", another axiom of modern architecture coming out of the Arts and Crafts movement which advocated methods of construction and materials not be disguised was likewise correct in direction. A direction we would be well served by if our food and fabrics along with construction materials were held to this standard.

GMO seeds and synthetic food additives and highly processed foods have more of the appearance of food than they do of being actual food. And fabrics made of synthetics are not only nasty to wear or even touch, but their fibers fill our air and eventually our lungs.

Is it any wonder that children's allergies are rampant when we inundate their bodies with synthetic foods, synthetic toiletries and synthetic clothing? We poison their environment and their bodies react in defense. With poison, moderation is complete avoidance, and complete truth to materials.

As for architecture, dress styles, and similar, moderation is not complete avoidance or complete truth to materials, because the ordering is to the beautiful. Ornament is not a crime, but moderate ornament is a good.

And when I do look around my house, at it and all our possessions, I can see that virtually all of them do to some extent follow those two modern design axioms. Our clothing, for instance, is not only modern in style, it is without doubt both typically lacking excess ornament as well manufactured of natural materials used according to their nature.

Of course some will argue that a peplos is likewise lacking in ornament and with materials used according to their nature and so that what I am discussing is not modern design per se, but as with much of life there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9, and thus while much of the materials and methods of construction associated with modern design are new, much of the axioms associated with it are not.

Those axioms may have not been expressed before, but much of what we do is not named until names are needed. Attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding are recently coined terms of how people have traditionally raised their children. And only became coined terms when it became necessary to explain these methods of child raising in comparison to the modern unnatural methods americans now suffer from using.

These modern design axioms likewise needed naming so as to likewise distinguish them from the prevailing methods of design.

Attachment parenting is seen as cutting edge modern for the same reason home birth is seen as cutting edge modern, when they are actually natural methods of living we no longer use. Similarly, much of modern dress and modern architectural design is in actuality going back to older methods of construction and design because they too are a better way to live.

My book shelves, like my children's clothing are mass produced, and in many other ways modern, but they too are in actuality going back to older methods. They are a moderate use of what is new by using new methods of manufacturing using natural materials.

My wife decorates our house the same way as we dress our children: moderately, and modestly with an appreciation of the beautiful and the fun, (as well as capable of taking abuse while still retaining its character), because our environment is formative and should reflect human life lived.

How we dress our children forms their taste because it forms the appetite of the soul to know the beautiful in the particular, as opposed to knowing the beautiful according to the universal.

And just as it is true that our children's tastes are formed by how we dress them, so likewise is it true that our children's tastes are formed by the rest of their environment; and so we in turn surround our children with natural textures and colours and other objects that will form their appetites. Because just as we intend to form culturally Catholic children in opposition to the culturally materialist environment that surrounds us, so likewise do we also intend to form our children to know the simple beauty of nature in opposition to the consumerist mass media sensory saturated environment that surrounds us.

Our home's interior design, as well as our exterior landscape design are likewise used to surround our children and form them to know the simple beauty of nature. A simple beauty that does not mean sterile, but does mean quietly aesthetically pleasing to the senses.

For example, manicured lawns of thick carpets of grass stretching over vast expanses are an aesthetic sterile desert inhospitable to life. Whereas in contrast, our yard is haphazard plum tree forests with large tree stumps scattered about in an irregular circular pattern on a lawn with 30 varieties of uneven grass intermixed with wild flowers and rough framed play structures with plenty of room to dig forts into the earth and similar - - all designed to form our children to know the simple beauty of nature.

Each environment should be designed according to its nature and its use. Outside our house is the unbounded world, while inside is sheltering civilization.

Like my bookshelves, our smooth painted walls constructed of gypsum wallboard are simple as well as perfect for tacking up our children's art, or maps and similar. Art decorations that would be out of place in a fussy victorian motif, but which make for a very fitting decor in the modern foamcore model box style of our house.

T"he house is a machine for living in", another axiom of modern architecture finds its expression, albeit moderated and lacking the underlying progressivism, in our bathrooms, laundry room and kitchen with table area. These rooms are dedicated to machines designed for efficiency.

Our kitchen table is modular steel and plastic with modular steel and plastic chairs from D.R.W. The floors in these rooms are fun patterns of VCT. And if it wasn't VCT it would be linoleum manufactured from linseed oil, but either way the tiles would be according to the modern design axiom of the kitchen is a machine for living in, albeit arranged in a fun pattern. Our kitchen cabinets are modular with durable modular ceramic tiled countertop, and if I was to do it over, I would install commercial grade Fiandre modular 2ft square porcelain tiles.

The refrigerator is modern machinery, but the food inside is manufactured using natural materials. The washing machine is modern machinery, but the laundry soap and clothing are manufactured using natural materials.

What we do is mix and match the modern where it serves us well. When my wife has had waterbirths we have used a rubbermaid livestock watering tank supplied by the midwife because it likewise was a good mixture of the modern with the older more natural. Modern hospitals have their use and their place, but giving birth is not one of them.

And so it is with much of our life, we choose to use candles on our Christmas tree because of the wonderful aesthetic of natural light, but we use mass produced candles and candle holders. My wife knits sweaters for the children, but most of our clothing is mass produced. We choose not to have a television in preference to walls with books, but we do have computers.

Modern design is not by nature harmful, but it can be intemperately and enthusiastically used so as to become harmful, which makes modern design the same as most of our environment where moderation is required. Modern design and modern methods have their uses and their place, and it is up to us to use our prudence to know where and when to use them, and where and when not to.

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