Strong forms and materials challenge comfort and simplicity.   Stunningly simple, heavily understated, this granite bench chills in the inhospitable snow of Yosemite Valley.

The bench is a monument to the geology of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and the gravitational forces that have scraped, scoured and shoved them for 40 million years in Yosemite Valley, in Hetch Hetchy, and as shown here, in the Emigrant Wilderness.  Harsh,  numbing, forbidding, exhilarating, the bench exhibits an elemental design logic, older than history, appropriate to a Sierra winter or home furnishings for Fred Flintstone.

Strong forms and strong materials have their powerful attractions despite their indifference to human comfort.  While comfort and simplicity remain our guiding goals,  architectural design  is not always about comfort, nor is simplicity always so simple.  An elegant goal, achieving simplicity from the myriad of materials and conditions required for modern construction is frequently a challenging and in this case weighty proposition requiring serious tools and strenuous effort. 

You can slap a cushion on  a bench, but complexity escalates with building construction and design.  Architecture detailing is inevitably confounded by literal layers and layers of waterproofing and energy conserving requirements creating what has been labeled puffy buildings–buildings with beady-eyed windows and chubby walls pumped up with insulating batts and foam.  When we go inside, we enter controlled environments, physically comfortable, but incredibly complicated, concealing a lot of unattractive, messy and not always healthy materials, isolating us from the natural environment.

Perspective can be useful.  If nothing else, simple, dumb and obvious solutions provide us an invaluable baseline, the Bedrock,  from which we can judge the relative values of the complexities we construct for ourselves.   From the vantage point of a soft cushion one can comfortably admire the icy elegance of a two ton sofa.

Credit and thanks to Hanna Barbera, the Flintstones of Bedrock and the profound efforts of  California Conservation Corps.

Principal and Owner of James Hill Architect specializing in residential architecture and interior design in San Francisco, California and the Pacific Northwest. We like bikes, cities, landscapes and most any kind of structure that supports a free spirit. While we remain fascinated, we are disinclined towards structures that inhibit or control. We take photos of what interests us and then figure out why.
  1. Pretty eloquent sums it up well, I am in awe of Mr. Hill’s flowing, yet knowledgable prose. I will require several tequila shots before I venture to post commentary about such thoughtful writing. Fortunately, I am inclined to make such preparations.

  2. I love architectural reviews that include the Flintstones… very high-brow. This is a cool article, and your title “rocks”. Your condensed essay on the most basic building material is pretty eloquent Mr. Hill. It makes me want to dust off my catologue of CCC structures for the Park Service. Do you mind if I share your writing with friends?

    1. CCC is definitely worth a Post Category. Send me what you have. And by all means, tell your friends.

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