The 2 x 4

My work for the last few months has involved close daily encounters with standardized stud lumber. The logic of these standards -- width, depth, and length -- seems baffling on its face. A 2 x 4 is actually 1-1/2" x 3-1/2". It gets even more curious as these lumber standards interface with a whole universe of other measures -- sheet goods, nail lengths, insulation batting widths, and non-structural accessories.  Now, 2 by 4 has become a colloquialism, slipping into common speech as a stand-in for wood, regardless of size or shape. 

Europeans arriving in America faced a forest of epic proportions. It had been managed with fire and agriculture by Native Americans, but it had never been logged with steels tools and draft animals. An abundance of timber informed the the building choices of early settlers, who were coming from a lumber-scarce continent that had largely been logged over by the 1600s. The first buildings erected by settlers -- in Jamestown and New England -- replicated building methods from the Old Country. Timber frames, made of braced posts and beams, were mortised and tenoned together. The notching, pegging, and extreme weight of the members made slowed construction and required skilled labor.

Maya Lin, 2 x 4 Landscape.


Kitted Out

I've always been entranced by kits. As a kid, I had a science kit full of little vials and electronic bits, all of which were gradually swallowed by couch cushions and carpet seams. Legos, the gateway drug to my architectural lifestyle, are the apex of modular, reconfigurable toys. I also had Construx, now defunct, which used plastic bubbles and bars to make assemblages. Erector Sets, K'NEX, and Froebel Blocks are all part of the same genre, attempting to fracture the ultimate geometry of the world into a set of discrete, elemental pieces.

Now, I find myself investigating the erector sets of the adult world. A recent article on Design Observer laid out the history and rationale of my old nemesis, container architecture. The author ties it into a larger history of capsule and modular architecture, linking Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House to the modern shipping container iterations of Lo-Tek, Shigeru Ban, and MRDV. This push towards rationalization, modularity, and a set of common dimensions has created a whole class of "standard" industrial objects: shipping containers, dimensional lumber, concrete masonry units, Jersey barriers, oil drums, tires, etc. 

Kitted out. Always be knolling . . .


Chief Carpenter

500-odd years ago, Leon Alberti published On the Art of Building, a series of ten pamphlets on the then-fledgling (formal) field of architecture. Mr. Alberti was writing about design, but called it building.

As I am apt to do, I tugged on this thread a bit, and it led me down an internet rabbit hole. The etymology of architecture, and architect, derives from the Greek arkhitekton. 

Arkhi- : chief
Arch - : principal, extreme, ultra, early, primitive
Tekton - : builder, carpenter

An architect, then, is a master builder. Today, an architect is certainly a chief, a director of works, and a builder of the virtual (drawings, models, plans), but not a builder, in the physical sense. Centuries of evolutionary specialization have codified the role of the architect into a remarkably narrow scope of responsibility. 

Considering it for my first tat.