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Writing and Architecture

Writing and Architecture

A story is not a story until it is told. The way that this is done gives it depth, meaning, and tone. A house is not a house until it is built. The way that this is done gives it character, purpose, and life. Writing and architecture are very similar in that the idea of the piece is expressed through the choices that are made. It is up to the author or designer to determine how the idea will be interpreted and what method will be used to communicate the idea. Choosing the means that will express the idea is a critical decision that will affect the outcome in dramatic ways.

When designing a house, an architect will establish an architectural idea that will be an underlying factor in the design. After choosing an idea, a means of articulating the idea is determined that will suit the client and relate to the context of its surroundings, whether it be sympathetic or contrastive. The basic form or shape of the house begins to give it meaning and locates the frame of reference. An important factor in building a house is whether the house is built to replicate past periods, such as Victorian, or has a modern design. The actual design of the house, where the walls, doors, and windows will be placed, brings out the architectural idea. In a book dealing with the architecture of houses the author has this to say: "Windows do more than let in light and air. The way they are placed in a wall affects our understanding of the whole house" (Moore, Allen, Lyndon qtd. in Allen 203).

The materials bring another level of understanding to the design. The difference between cedar shingles and modular steel panels is significant when determining the tone of the house.

I shall always remember how as a child I played on the wooden floor. The wide boards were warm and friendly, and in their texture I discovered a rich and enchanting world of veins and knots. I also remember the comfort and security experienced when falling asleep next to the round logs of an old timber wall; a wall which was not just a plain surface but had a plastic presence like everything alive. Thus sight, touch, and even smell were satisfied, which is as it should be when a child meets the world. (Norberg-Shultz qtd. in Allen 83)

This architect recalls how important the materials that his home was made of were to his memories. Bringing the form of the house, the material choice, and its relation to its surroundings gave the architecture meaning and depth.

The architect must also establish credibility in the design. There are laws and standards both written and unwritten that must be followed or addressed. A common idea is that a house must have three parts: a base or foundation, the middle, and a roof. Without these parts there would be an imbalance that would not appeal to most people. One architect writing about the importance of this balance says that the"...roof plays a primal role in our lives. The most primitive buildings are nothing but a roof. If the roof is hidden, if its presence cannot be felt around the building, or if it cannot be used, then people will lack a fundamental sense of shelter" (Alexander qtd. in Allen 598). An architect may modify this idea, but the imbalance that is created must be dealt with in some way. The design must also function in an efficient way. It must be a logical and convenient sequence through the house.

When writers begin a piece, they must determine the form that they will use to communicate their ideas. A personal essay such as Alice Walker's "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self" is a very different genre than the novel The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Both pieces explore the idea of beauty, but because of the different genres, ideas and arguments are expressed in very different ways. The tone of Morrison's novel is somewhat dreary. There is a dark side to the text that is used to address the fact that ideas of beauty can be very painful. Walker's essay has an upbeat mood. Although there are parts where she expresses the pain that she felt, there are areas that bring hints of hope to these sections.

The authors must also use language to bring depth and texture to a piece. Diction is chosen to appeal to an audience and to establish a tone for the piece that may be evidence of the argument that they are making. It also gives the piece a deeper meaning by bringing the reader into the vocabulary of the scene, adding another layer of detail to the passage. Morrison uses a diction that would be typical of the characters in the novel, giving them depth that leads to a better understanding of the characters as well as the argument that she is making. Often when describing events Morrison uses language that paints a harsh picture:

They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds--cooled--and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path. They danced a macabre ballet around the victim, whom, for their own sake, they were prepared to sacrifice to the flaming pit. (55)

Descriptions like this one, where some boys are taunting Pecola, have an angry tone that supports her argument that beauty is drawn along the lines of race by showing how these boys were affected by this internal anger.

To establish credibility, authors must convince the reader in some way that they are authorities on the subject. This can be done by the author identifying their sex, race, or social standing, or by establishing themselves as an authority on a certain subject. It can also be done by establishing an intellectual milieu that allows the reader to associate the author with certain positions that can be used to back up the arguments. Knowing that Morrison is an African-American woman allows the reader to believe that she may be very familiar with the problems that face the characters in her novel. Her use of low diction brings the novel to the level of the characters. "Later I throw up, and my mother says, 'What did you puke on the bed clothes for?...You think I got time for nothing but washing up your puke?' The puke swaddles down the pillow onto the sheet-- green-gray, with flecks of orange." This use of rough language recognizes the attitude of the society that she is writing about. When describing the character Soaphead Church, Morrison writes, "thus he chose to remember Hamlet's abuse of Ophelia, but not Christ's love of Mary Magdalene;...Othello's love for the fair Desdemona, but not Iago's perverted love of Othello. The works he admired most were Dante's; those he despised most were Dostoevski's"(134). References to these great writers shows that she is a well educated woman gaining the respect of the reader.

Writing in the first person gives Walker credibility because the piece is about her experiences. The piece establishes her view of beauty through short sketches in her life. She remembers: "I am in the desert for the first time. I fall totally in love with it. I am so overwhelmed by its beauty"(26). The personal essay allows her to gain the confidence of the reader, and she is able to say directly what her definition of beauty is. Including her own poetry in the essay, I believe, also adds to her credibility. Her piece deals with beauty showing how it has affected her, proving that it is something that she has dealt with and how she has brought it into her work.

Both authors focus on what beauty means to them; however, there are two different arguments. Morrison uses the novel to argue that beauty is written along the lines of race. She uses built up histories and experiences of the characters to show that race played a major factor in what they thought as lovely and that these experiences in their lives shaped these opinions. Because Morrison's argument deals with notions of beauty along lines of race, choosing the novel form allows her to express her ideas more clearly. She is able to go into depth using a wider range of characters to show that this is not an isolated incident, but something that affects an entire group of people.

Walker's piece argues that beauty is triumph over tragedy. Her personal essay takes the reader through a series of events in her life that have a particular focus: how she overcomes a conflict. The culmination of her argument occurs when she realizes there "was a world in my eye. And I saw that it was possible to love it: that in fact for all it had taught me of shame and anger and inner vision I did love it" (27). The progression of the events shows the reader how she develops this attitude toward beauty. Her argument is from a more personal standpoint, and so becomes more real to the reader.

Finally, the architect and the author must understand completely the basic skills of producing a piece before they can attempt to express their argument. "Go into the field where you can see the machines and methods at work that make the modern buildings, or stay in construction direct and simple until you can work naturally into the building-design from the nature of construction (qtd. in Allen 13)." This quote by Frank Lloyd Wright written in the book To the Young Man in Architecture shows how important is it for an architect to be able to work with the materials and methods used to create buildings. As an architect chooses a style and material for a building, an author must choose a form and language. By combining these and establishing credibility, the author or designer is able to give the piece depth, meaning, and texture that will give their idea clarity and strength.

Works Cited
Allen, Edward. Fundamentals of Building Construction: Materials and Methods. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1990.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Washington Square Press, 1972.

Walker, Alice. "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self." In Search of Our Mother's Gardens. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1983.

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