The title of this collection of essays is from a book I read in youth, a book whose ideas have taken root over decades and are just now coming into flower. I do not know yet if they will bear fruit.
Function, not Fashion
When asked to name books that shaped my worldview, my mind usually goes first to biography and literature, then to psychology, philosophy, or history.
Until I revisited Rex Robert’s Your Engineered House including it in such a list would not have occurred to me. However, rereading it, I see that this book either strongly shaped my attitude toward the world or I was drawn to it by a natural affinity to the ideas.
I first read it when I was about thirteen. It was my father’s book. He was a fighter pilot and our family moved every couple of years, living in “standard issue” base housing. One of his dreams, which he never realized, was to build a house. I remember he used to tell the story of Robert Shumaker, the Navy fighter pilot who kept his sanity as a POW by mentally constructing a house, brick by brick. Shumaker was shot down 1965, the same year my father was in Vietnam. I imagine that my father, too, spent that year away from my mom and us six kids, building a dream house in his head.
Recently, my father’s dream has taken root in me and I’ve decided to build a house. The first thing I did was to ask to borrow the book. And he gave it to me.
In Rex Roberts, I find a voice that articulates my approach to my own work, my interest in functional design. “Your house is a structure which shelters you and a machine which works for you.” Despite all of a house’s moving parts and multiple systems which must be integrated into a pleasing and working whole, how many of us think of a house as a machine or take that a step further and examine our user interactions with it?
More typically we dismiss our houses as “environment”. Or worse, we treat houses as adornment, a decorative feature that conveys wealth and status.
Having lived in so many houses growing up (including in other countries) and pouring over so many house plans at my father’s knee, I tend to see houses as something more than a blank slate to be decorated, something more than a mere a base on which we paste our personality upon the surface. I’m aware of a house as something that is designed and made.
Rex Roberts encourages us to focus on beauty in form and function, rather than applied decoration. This is an aesthetic to which I’ve been attracted all my life and which was reinforced in my studies of things Japanese.
In summary, Roberts closes the book with the mantras that seem so much a part of me, I thought they were personality not ideology.
“The method of engineering is to ask why. Why is it the way it is? Why can’t it be done better? While you engineer your house, keep asking why. Why do I need this? Why not spent my money for something I want?”
Not yet reformatted, but a long and worthwhile one.