It’s been more than two decades since I read John Ruskin’s the Stones of Venice. I wouldn’t want to take a test on it now as I remember only bits and pieces of it. It’s probably just as well since Ruskin’s view of architecture has fallen either out of favor or into desuetude. It’s unfortunate, too, since I doubt anyone writing about architecture recently, with the possible exception of the late Hilton Kramer (registration required) could begin to match the lyrical Ruskin’s breadth and depth of learning.
Ruskin wrote his great work to exemplify his Seven Lamps of Architecture. And now you’ll see why he has fallen into disfavor. Ruskin’s lamps were Sacrifice, Truth, Power, Beauty, Life, Memory and Obedience — all capitals. He also added a couple of dozen aphorisms, all of which would raise either eyebrows, hackles, or both, today. The Stones of Venice did, in Ruskin’s mind, provide physical evidence of his sempiternal lamps. The buildings, you see, were lanterns, as it were, persevering the values, or virtues if you will, that any culture should, according to Ruskin, want to preserve. Ruskin wrote his Seven Lamps in the 1840s and followed it with Stones in the 1850s. It’s safe to say no modern architect thinks in such terms anymore when he or she is fashioning a space. The larger question, which is one I am in no position to answer, is whether we think in such terms as Truth, Beauty, Life and the rest of them (majuscules not miniscules) at all anymore. More than one of those words could, I imagine, begin a kind of free-for-all argument, even if you said them at home.
I mention Ruskin’s book because it’s one of the first places I read about architrave or anything else having to do with architecture. Ruskin came back to mind this week, like some lost or forgotten friend who joyously shows up unexpectedly, as work began on the main attraction in our renovations: the soffit. Framing for the soffit is nearly complete as I write this. Now technically, a soffit is the underside of just about anything being built. It can be seen, for example, on nearly any house in your neighborhood. But as the one going up in our building is curved, it reminded me of an architrave (we have nearby columns but they do not frame a door or window), and that led me to Ruskin. This is a nice touch in our building and one that, given our very tight budget, we are fortunate to get.
The canopy over this area will be, as I mentioned last week, the new location for our circulation and reference areas. It’s a place we’re calling the Information Commons, or IC, for short. No longer will there be two places to seek help; just one. We’re trying to make things easier for patrons and more efficient for us. This design combines these two necessities nicely. The area will also house our ready reference, our laptops and iPads, and a few other points of interest. Nearby will be our copiers and the card station to activate them. The idea is to make it an omnium gatherum for all your information needs.
This isn’t the only feature that the new floor will have, of course (more on those other features later), but it will certainly be the first thing you see, and the first thing that jumps out at you. In fact, if things go as planned, your eyes will be drawn to this place as soon as you enter the building. We’ll have plenty more in the building for you to see, but this is the place we want you to see first, as it’s really the very place you’ll need to find out about all the other wonderful things we’ll have in the building.
While our main emphasis in this phase of the renovations is the first floor, we’re doing a few things to the other two floors, too. Our hope is that they’ll be renovated next year. But in the meantime, we have made a few changes that you’ll want to know about, and those will be rolled out in future posts. For now, you need to know that there will be significant changes that will dazzle and delight, or at least that’s our hope.
It goes without saying that I won’t venture a guess as to which lamp such a soffit as ours might suggest to Ruskin.
(Dacus is in debt to Linda Walrod for all library photographs appearing on this post and on other pages relating to the library’s renovations.)