Living Outside The Box
You know by now that I have a problem with houses and offices that limit people in un-necessary ways. The dwelling in which we spend our early years, the school buildings, the churches or temples we frequent growing up either stimulate our uniqueness or contribute to repressing it. This is a great shame because I believe we are all born with creative gifts that we are meant to use. Not all of these gifts will be ‘conventional’ and some may not be recognised for what they are. Even Einstein had to remind scientists of his generation that it was imagination and leaps of intuition that led to scientific advances. Mathematics and the ‘scientific method’ were just tools and useless if the people using them had no capacity for wonder, that aspect of our consicousness that elicits our curiosity and makes us see things in a different way than we did before. Einstein first dreamed the concept of relativity and then spent the next two years doing the math to illustrate it. And as much as he loved physics, he also loved music – so much that he learned to play the violin. He combined both forms of creativity: artistic and scientific.
Living Outside The Box
There are many assumptions about human limitations floating around. Like if we don’t learn something at a certain stage of development we’ll never be able to learn it. I beg to differ. The teacher makes all the difference in how we learn as well as what we learn. Unfortunately, one thing that schools do not teach is how to recognise and appreciate good design and understand why it is so important to human life. Today I want to share with you some images of “Outside The Box” designed environments. Some of them may take you back to favourite story books from childhood, others may fire your imagination with regard to what life could be like in the future and all of them should cause you to ask questions about how your dwelling places and workplaces affect you for better or for worse. Consider the examples that follow in light of yesterday’s survey of your preferences and see if there is a close match anywhere.
The Artist vs. The Architect
Some years ago I discovered the work of artist James Hubbell. Although not an architect by training, Mr. Hubbell had designed and built a number of highly whimsical, eco-friendly, and very human houses, including his own. Pictured at left is Hubbell in front of his studio when it was under construction in the 1960s.
He purchased land on a mountain outside of San Diego, California, and spent a great deal of time just walking and studying the natural environment. Over time he developed a feel for organic design that could be applied to building a one-off type of house that took into account not just the climate and landscape but the needs of the individuals who would live in the house. It’s not easy to build or “sculpt” a unique house as Hubbell prefers to describe his work. It is a long process and not for those who want to order a house on the internet and move into it two or three months later. A Hubbell building evolves as it is built gradually blending into its environment, even incorporating a tree inside in one structure.
Compare the beginning stages above with the finished building. This is now the Hubbell ‘compound’, a combination of studios, home and office. The entire structure was burned to the ground in the terrible fires that swept the mountains around Santa Ysabel and destroyed not only the studio but the house as well in 2003. A lifetime’s work was lost to the flames. Fortunately, Hubbell and his family were able to re-build and today their compound includes the office of an educational effort called The Ilan-Lael Foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to open up the field of art education to include the design and construction of unique buildings based on eco-friendly principles including the use of re-cycled glass, metal, and reclaimed materials of all kinds. Hubbell’s philosphy is that no two people are exactly alike so why should our dwellings be exactly alike as in the images above of terraced houses and high rise office and apartment blocks. Hubbell’s own aesthetic arises from a combination of nature mysticism and the work of other builders such as Antony Gaudi of Barcelona and Freidrensreich Hundertwasser of Vienna of whom we shall see more in the next post.
Colour, Light, and Fantasy
For now, I’d like you to see some of the other artistic media in which Hubbell works. He is a pre-eminentwater colour painter, sculptor, and stained glass artist and he has incorporated his glass work into the design of his re-built home and studios. In addition to the stained glass installations that cast their mesmerising hues around the inside of the Hubbell’s rooms, he is also a mosaicist whose work is in high demand. Note the unexpected mosaic forms in the floor. Again, there is nothing mechanical in the design. It looks like a stream cutting through the mud brick floor and meandering here and there before disappearing into an imagined but invisible landscape.
It is perhaps arguable whether Hubbell would have had such a successful artistic career if he had spent his life in a typical California house, perhaps a ‘ranch style’ or a ‘split level’. Somehow I don’t see this artist being happy or productive in any conventional setting. Everything that he creates appeals to sight and touch and extends even to the acoustics in his wife’s music room where she plays a concert harp. But more significant than all of this is the concept that underlies all of Hubbell’s work: individuality. He is unique and therefore his work is unique. To be an individual one must be free in one’s own mind and spirit. Hubbell’s environments invite the viewer/visitor to open to possibility, to the unusual and eccentric and experience the lifting of limitations imposed by an industrial society that depends upon and to a great extent imposes standardisation and conformity in every area of life. But it is important to remember that freedom isn’t just ‘freedom from’; it is, more importantly, freedom TO. To think, to question, to experiment, to explore our abilities and innate leanings. That includes the psychic and the sacred, the intellectual and the spiritual. Like Hubbell’s buildings, we are organic beings capable of change and growth but only if we give ourselves permission to push our boundaries and live outside the box of convention.
Take a minute to look carefully at the images below. What do feelings do they evoke from you? Which colours are you drawn to? What do the images make you think about?
This is the entrance to the Hubbell House. Contrasting the darkness of some of the bricks, he uses light cast from the stained glass windows to create a welcoming and dramatic atmosphere. Colour is everywhere but it is comforting as well as stimulating. Can you imagine this effect in a rectangular entrance hall?
The combination of flowing lines in the ceiling glass and the more angular but irregular lines of the bricks create a fascinating kaleidoscopic effect that raises my spirits instantly.
Any guess as what this building at right might be? The lines of the roof and the finish suggest both scales and feathers to me. The sense of movement created by the tilt of the roof and the wooden finish on the left suggest a boat at sea.
So what is it? It’s the Sea Ranch Chapel, a non-denominational space for contemplation, meditation and meeting. This wonderfully improbable building can’t help but raise a smile if one gives onself up to simply experiencing the space rather than analysing it in comparison with other examples of spiritual architecture. It is a place of joy rather than sacrifice, a place of celebration of life rather than a fixed ritual. The whole structure calls out to the joy of living in the Now and just being rather than doing. Hubbell creates an enveloping and welcoming space where the human spirit can pause and rest and leave with a sense of peace and harmony.
This is the entrance to the Ilan-Lael Foundation an educational project devoted to bringing art and architecture to students and teachers who may have had little exposure to either before. James Hubbell’s vision of what schools could be opens the public debate on the importance of place and space in the development of humans who face a daunting future on the planet. We all need places to live and learn and work so we have a vested interest in improving those places to make our lives the best we can. Whether you believe we have only one lifetime or many, the care and feeding of the human spirit is central to a well-lived life.
For more about James Hubbell and/or the Ilan-Lael Foundation please go HERE.
Photo credits: Terraced Houses: freeimages.co.uk
Hubbell House and Sea Ranch Chapel: Hubbell Archives, Ilan-Lael Foundation.