Sunday, June 17, 2012

Stilgoe, Klee and Seeing Thurston Woods

This week I learned that there are many lenses through which to view my surroundings.  I am accustomed viewing the artifacts in my environment at the scale that John Stilgoe discusses in his book Outside Lies Magic, usually an urban or regional scale.  Consider one of his examples, that of the nature of telephone poles here in the US. They are traces of a time in the US when tall straight trees were plentiful and local, later a story of lobbies, and consistently a story of connection.   I must learn to take away from Stilgoe the curiosity and desire to observe my environment and understand why it is the way it is, but I should also embrace a new scale that Jeff Klee of Colonial Williamsburg introduced to us non-building architect-types – 1/8th and 1/16th scale.  It is at this scale, one that is miniscule in comparison to the scale where I have been trained, that allows me to see a new set of traces of man to spark my curiosity:  why is that cut mark in the floor interrupted by two floor boards, what is the pattern of nail holes and what might it mean, is there a faint shadow in the plaster of today indicating walls past?  How have we modified our physical surroundings to reflect our changing needs, interests and desires?  Just as importantly, why have we chosen to leave some forms unchanged but modified the function?

Thurston Woods provides an opportunity to exercise observation and interpretation through these old and new lenses.  At the neighborhood scale, I see the different eras and developers behind the neighborhoods that comprise Thurston Woods.  On an individual residence level, I see different uses for the front and back yard living spaces, and how these become an extension and expression of the family living in the home.  The layering of old structure and organization and the improvements and changes made by subsequent owners highlight the changing importance of public and private lives across time.