Safety

I see myself in a white space, shadows delineating the lines of enclosures.  There are no sharp edges, just grey against white.  High above me is a curved ceiling, with a clerestory that allows the light to bounce into the space I occupy.  A long hall, lower ceiling, leads from this space to another.  There are windows lining the hall, but it is still tonal, grey on white.

My pencil moves quickly as I sketch this vision in my toothy sketchbook.  I choose a pencil rather than a lead holder for this, Art Gum eraser to keep the tooth.  Lines first, proportions, captured, then shade with small, quick strokes.  Is it right?

The project I am working on is for a dwelling.  It is not my usual project type, but a woman came to me seeking the safety she felt in my sole church commission.  She was haunted, and needed something new and different so that she could forget.  It must be a fortress, but a lovely one.

All the money in the world could not make her forget where she came from.  War, poverty, hunger, rape.  She had built her fortunes when she arrived, but they did not keep her from the hunger and fear she had always known.  Her beautiful things did not keep her from remembering the son she lost, and the one she had to leave behind with her parents in order to save her daughters.  She spent many years hoping to one day be reunited, but it never happened.  He had a life there where only a man could really have a life.  Her daughters had grown up strong and independent, a fact that made her proud, but lonely.  She lived alone now, though they visit often.

This house would be like my own in many ways.  No hiding places, no dark spots.  But it had to go further, the safety had to be felt, and it had to be built to forget.  For someone who specializes in museums and memories, it could be seen as a strange request.  But who knows more about forgetting than someone who knows how to remember?

The anonymity of white is good for forgetting.  Brightness enhances a feeling of safety.  And to those who have felt the prison of life, doors can feel oppressive.  Inner walls with a series of windows to allow the light within.  White outer walls, just high enough to block views, form a courtyard.  No shrubbery in this courtyard, it would be white river rock, landscape lighting to wash the walls with light at night.  Inside, layers of lights to allow complete control over the darkness, beginning with strip lights between wall and floor. I move to my desk and lay a sheet of vellum on my drafting board. Lead holders are laid out, my sharpener at the ready. I lay out a preliminary floor plan, then move on to elevations.  That will do for now, tomorrow I will show her my ideas for her approval, but I already know her answer because I have seen myself in this space.

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