My townhouse cluster has a community garden on the east side of the property. A few weeks ago I built a small bridge over the stream channel in order to give us another way to enter from the driveway – another vantage point. I kept thinking “…over the river and through the wood…”, a song which harkens back to a much more rural and simpler time. And I realized that was exactly the point. In our urban setting the small bridge -- over an intermittent stream -- terminating within a small copse of poplars and pines -- was all we needed to create an effective threshold.
It’s the creation of “thresholds” that most interests me in design. The meaning I use is characterized by a walk down the same old path but suddenly seeing something in a completely new way. What can I place in the built environment that opens a portal to a novel, and often unique, experience? That’s the threshold. And it can be triggered through any of the senses. It can be a deliberate pattern that leads the eye – or a convergence of experiences that evokes memories. And it’s non-binding, in that some people will get it and some won’t. That’s the element of surprise that I like.
This brings to mind architectural design tools and how they affect the process of imagining thresholds. I actually find it very difficult to engage the more transcendent qualities while using Computer-Aided Design programs. The computer-generated lines are absolutely crisp and exacting, leaving nothing to the imagination. They definitely have their place in construction drawings but for tying together spaces and evocative qualities… I choose pencil drawing every time. It can’t be replaced. I find that guiding my hand through a sketch is comparable to reading a novel: the mind is free to roam about and play with different possibilities. My hand moves across the page with the motor functions of walking rather than the mental functions of thinking. It makes a huge difference.
One purpose of architecture is to discover the Unique in the way we live and to open it up for others to subtly encounter – and enjoy.