thinair Boulder, Colorado. elevation 5400 feet.

Scaffolding and Architecture

Grady Booch spoke at Denver Java Users Group tonight. When I mentioned that to Sarah she laughed out loud. "His name is Grady Booch?" she exclaimed and then laughed again! Heartfelt, joyous laughter. Sorry, Grady. You may be one of The Three Amigos, but I guess you're not a household name.

I did explain that he was introduced as one of the few people in our industry who could be called a rock star. Sarah thinks he's got a really funny name. She laughed again a few minutes later when I said his name another time.

His presentation was entitled "The Architecture of Unusual Things." It was a fun presentation with many interesting anecdotes. I enjoyed his stories and sense of humor. You can get the slides from DJUG's web site if you'd like the details. One of his conclusions was that architecture is a living, breathing thing which must grow or die. It reminded me of a few of my travels in Europe.

I didn't get to see the Pantheon when I was in Rome. It was quite a disappointment. In one of my classes in college I created a three dimensional model of the interior of the dome including the coffered ceiling. The rendering came out quite nicely, but I wanted to see what the lighting looked like in the real thing. Unfortunately it was chiuso per restauro .

Quite a few things were chiuso per restauro while I was in Italy. I became quite fond of scaffolding. I was particularly struck by the scaffolding at what I think was the chapel of St. Damian [1], a chapel which St. Francis built himself. Around the chapel I visited had been built a baroque monstrosity. The chapel was contained within it, below the dome at the crossing. Those who built the big church around the little chapel seem to have completely missed St. Francis' point. Anyway, at the time I visited there were extensive repairs underway on the dome and a vast pile of scaffolding had been constructed below the dome. They used really beautiful black struts with substantial brass-colored joints assembled in an octet-tetra truss completely surrounding the modest jewel of a chapel. The scaffolding was beautiful in its own right, but even more so for protecting the chapel from the dome above, indeed protecting it from the entire containing church. I found it truly beautiful and profoundly symbolic.

In later travels I kept noticing the scaffolding inside or outside so many places we visited, none of it as beautiful or powerful. Nevertheless, I imagined a time-lapse film of each of these sites, watching the scaffolding crawl spider-like around the building -- an architectural enzyme continually repairing some part of structure or facade or interior.

Although it is not exactly what Grady Booch was talking about, I can only agree that Architecture is a living, breathing thing.

Update: [1] It may also have been Santa Maria de Los Angeles as my friend Jim notes in his comment.

Update: Tim Bray knows what I'm talking about. While talking about Antarctica's move to downtown Vancouver he mentions:

Yaletown was all brick buildings and fashion victims. Down here, it all happens faster and everything's under construction; oh, the geometry!

He also includes a nice picture of a building under repair and the structure of the crane involved is a variation of an octet-tetra truss. Geometry indeed.

Jim commented

13 September 2003 at 16:51


The church in Assisi that enshrines Francis' church is Santa Maria de Los Angeles. (Those familiar with California geography will recognize Los Angeles, Santa Clara (St. Clair) and San Francisco as references to the Franciscan roots of the first Spanish missionaries)

Speaking of chiuso per restauro. . . The story of the beginning of Francis' ministry is that he was in church at San Damiano when the cross spoke to him. It told him that "My church is broken. You must rebuild my church." So he left his life in Italian society and built that little church in the valley.

What strikes me about this story is that for Francis it was always aprasi per restauro. That the entire Franciscan mission in the world is the transformation of the broken church, qua people. It does not close for restoration it is perpetually open for it. THAT is the living breathing architecture of the (Francis') church.