The ravages of space

A Reading Note

A tale of barns and space:

To illustrate his respect for traditional English building techniques, a friend told me a story about a building contractor who was commissioned to tear down an old English barn. Common practice in these cases is apparently to hitch one’s bulldozer to the uphill corner post and pull it out diagonally until the structure collapses. This main secured his chain to the post in question, mounted his machine, and began tugging away, without any noticeable results. He gritted his teeth and opened up the throttle until finally, with an awful wrenching and dragging noise, the bulldozer began to move. The contractor looked back to see the whole barn following him up the hill in one piece.

We have all heard stories of this kind; in general they are used to accord the nobility to those products of human art and effort which “resist the ravages of time.” But perhaps the opposite is true. We do not say, for example, that the ancient builders of this barn kept their edges true, their angles square, and their boards flush in order to resist the ravages of space. Rather, they did these things in compliance with the laws of the three dimensions; and this compliance, it seems, brought them into accord with the fourth dimension, time. More generally, it can be argued that all things which endure do so by achieving harmony with the order of the four dimensions. Conversely, things being in defiance of this order, like the enormous Gothic cathedral piled up by the pretentious citizens of Beavais, fall and crumble.

Grudin, Time and the Art of Living, page 21

So: things that last are things that are well made. What signifies “well made” on the web? Perhaps, it is simply things that have been made with care; that is, things cared for in their creation and in the days since. Maybe caring about the things we make is enough to keep the barn following us up the hill for a long time to come.

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