Architecture & emotions

The last few days before vacation always seem the most intense. But soon (though never soon enough) I’ll be in LA—a few days of vacation and visiting with friends followed by a few days of a conference. One of the places I intend to visit is the Getty.

I’ve only been there once before, and the symmetry and order of the place, the care with which each marble tile has been placed, the uncluttered perfection of it all…I called a friend to try to describe it and quite unexpectedly burst into tears.

I’ve had architects make me cry before, but never architecture. But my experience at the Getty was the second time I’ve experienced that. The first was the Catholic cathedral in Rio de Janeiro. I remember thinking it looked like a nuclear power plant from the outside; from the photos I see on the web, it’s more like a Constructivist ziggurat. But when I stepped inside it took my breath away. I’ve been in a lot of churches in my time, but even on a weekday midmorning with no services in sight, this place was clearly full of something holy.

I couldn’t put a finger on how I could be moved to tears by until I read Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness. He calls architectural order “a defence against feelings of overcomplication” and cites as examples

“…a corridor extending from one extremity of a house to the others, or…a series of courtyards on a perfect axis. In these manifestations of ordered construction, we are granted a feeling of having tamed the unpredictabilities to which we are subject and, in a symbolic way, acquired command over a disturbingly unknowable future.”

I’ll be in LA—and at the Getty—during the Republican Convention. I guess I’ll be bringing my Kleenex.

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