First Office

Mountain House

Mountains are full of wonder. They are primordial symbols of time, glacial time, but also a record of the subtle fluctuations in seasons, changes in the sky. They are wild, stochastic, unpredictable. They have no discipline. They have no referent. Each mountain’s identity is itself. It does not make sense to speak of errors when one speaks of mountains because they have no formal norm against which to stray.

A house is rarely wonderful. It is mostly a mundane composition of parts, frames, volumes, and walls. It is willful, determined, controlled. Necessarily positioned at some distance from nature, it is regulated through architectural convention. Remember the primitive hut? “It is by approaching the simplicity of this first model that fundamental mistakes are avoided and true perfection is achieved.”

A domesticated object has all the attributes of the original, corrected through a system of disciplinary norms. It is an analogous form, “created not by genius, inspiration, determination, evolution, but by two modest actions (which cannot be caught up in any mystique of creation): substitution (one part replaces another, as in a paradigm) and nomination (the name is in no way linked to the stability of the parts).”

If literary metaphor can turn the Right Whale’s head into a house, how might architectural drawing convention help to domesticate a mountain?