Beautiful homes rising from the dust
BY Thomas Wagner | Nov 24, 2013

Let’s take a practical look at architecture. As in not so much the result but the taxing process that comes before it. Not the smart plans and pristine images, but the actual building site. Whether you are a client intending to build a house or wishing to have your home, in slight need of repair, renovated and converted, beware. Because there is a whole lot more to the undertaking than simple planning pleasures. For as soon as the building project starts you will find yourself going one-on-one with craftsmen of countless different trades. With a new build this may lead to the one or other debate that involves tweaking some minor details; in the case of refurbishment, things can easily spiral right out of control and leave you waging a demoralizing war against the overpowering weight of facts.

If several rooms or indeed an entire floor are up for a facelift and scaffolders, engineers, carpenters, roofers, plumbers, electricians, parquet layers and decorators arrive on your doorstep en masse, your task will be not only to make functional and aesthetic decisions on-the-fly, but indeed to ensure for yourself an oasis of calm amidst the hands-on hustle and bustle, while likewise protecting the existing rooms from damage. Though you may think you are still king of the home that is your castle you will soon realize that you are just a visitor on a building site.

You will no doubt do your utmost to restore a sense of order to the mess, coordinate appointments sensibly and avoid damage being done at all costs. Yet you will soon recognize the vast differences in work ethics and expectations between the different trades, as there seems to be an inherent link between the job, and the behavior and demeanor of those who perform it.

If the task at hand involves tearing down a wall, for example, you will be hard pushed to find a remedy that will lessen the impact of the force applied. And despite their undoubtedly good intentions tradespeople, like all of us, just want to do their job and get it done. After all, they too permanently find themselves dealing with hard-and-fast deadlines. It’s not surprising then that the proportions of the new gabled roof go out the window or the lovingly maintained parquet flooring happens to sustain collateral damage. Sure, today’s tradesmen tend to be partners who are civilized just as they are understanding, capable of handling not only hammer, chisel, saw and brush, but also laying out covering sheets and deploying a vacuum cleaner. Still, we have to accept that there is something deeply archaic about building. Building affects everything. Building, and especially rebuilding, creates facts like a summer does dust, whether you like it or not.

First of all it’s the scaffolders invading your garden like some hostile army. Job done, they exit the plowed up battlefield without farewell, leaving behind rows of crushed hedges, roses and trees that have been struck down by iron tubes like enemies murdered by the sword. Like occupying forces the next troops appear swiftly, liberating the house of its tiles and roof, its walls and beams, indeed of anything you were not quick enough to move out of the way and hide in a safe place. At least that’s the impression of the guy who once proudly considered himself the man about the house and now finds himself commanding the losing side, forced to sign an Act of Surrender composed of time sheets. Until, oh blessed wonder, several weeks later things suddenly start to look up again as reconstruction efforts begin. This is not to mean that there is now less noise, dust and dirt; but what previously seemed dark and gloomy has been given a fresh lick of paint in the bright colors of hope. Be this as it may: Should you, as the client, once again pluck up the courage, draw on your depths of desperation, and make a shy attempt to save what cannot be saved, you are only setting yourself up for yet another face-off with the naked truth: “I have no idea what you are talking about? This is a building site, for God’s sake!”

Let’s home in on the contrast now. Indeed, it couldn’t be more striking. For that which has arisen from the noise and dust, has been wrested in battle from the enemy and pulled from the mire in the glossy pictures of Home & Living magazines suddenly appears glamorous, luxurious and above all – clean. What the kings of all kinds of castles have had to put up with is presented here to detached readers in a way that ignites blissful temptation, kindles cravings and unleashes never-known desires. Free from noise and dust, squeaky clean and odorless, there are millions of images of to-die-for buildings circulating on the Web, in large illustrated books – and in our heads. At the end of the day we are happy that things are just the way they are.

It’s like this: Precisely because these pictures are fake we feel compelled to whirl up the dust, see walls topple down and precious plants break, ready to lower ourselves into the mire of the building site – to make them a reality. May the gap between the truth about building and the truth of the imagination be as fundamental as never before – for the architect it is a superb well of inspiration. So there’s no harm in remembering the hardship and labor it took to transform dirt, dust and noise into a nice place to live. Especially because it’s neither the architect nor the photographer who cleans up afterwards.