Building in the Sant'Anna Garden, Part 2

During the work on the pergola, a bench and a fence were created… Yodan describes the process.

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In doing the feeling maps and center analysis for the North Garden, one of the worse spots in terms of feeling was the North edge of the garden. The wall there is low, and did not offer any containment or protection. There was a potentially very nice place to sit on the roof of the sewage pump cabin below, but it was dangerous, and the gardener put two large pots with thorny plants to ward off people from coming. Also, there was nothing to terminate the cross axis of the garden which had now been given more force by the gazebo we created in the pergola.

Initially, the students thought of a niche, with a sculpture perhaps. But that would necessitate building up the wall at the edge of the garden — something which would need a permit from the Superintendent of Monuments and Culture. Looking at it more closely, now that the Pergola was taking shape, we saw a need, and an opportunity for a bench at the end of that path, snuck in between the lemon and loquat trees, whose branches were making a sort of diagonal arch. The students built a mock-up of the bench. We gave it a one-sided enlargement, making it L-shaped, to allow 3 people to sit and have a conversation. We worked out the geometry of the back of the bench in a mock-up. It was quite complex – symmetrical towards the path leading to the bench, but breaking the symmetry to fit in the complex center made by the two trees. We make sure that the back of the bench does not obscure the view of the beautiful garden of the villa across the street below us, and the glimpse of the sea beyond it. Then we made a drawing.

We called upon Luigi, our Tufo master. He was available only from the beginning of April. This meant a tight schedule, but he was confident that we would be able to do it. On the first week of April, Luigi and the students started the preparation work for the bench. They dug out the niche for it from the garden. Laid the new paving stones, and built the base of the bench. The gardener moved a couple of rose bushes from the area so we could have more room to work, and trimmed the lemon tree a little bit so the arch made by the branches was more pronounced. One day I encountered him, and asked him what he thought about the pergola taking shape. He is very happy with it, and suggested we use the same timber, and the presence of Giuseppe, to build a fence above the wall. He offered to move the pots with the thorny plants if this is done – suddenly a complete re-organization of this problematic edge of the garden seemed possible! Giuseppe agreed to build the fence, and started working on it with the students.

The work on the pergola and fence continued. Giuseppe suffered a family tragedy. His uncle fell from a height while working and was in a coma in hospital. The rain, which was absent for most of February and March returned, and canceled a couple of days of work. Luigi was busy with the exhibition of the Artisans’ Association which opened on April 10.

It all came down to the week between April 15-18, before we were to go on Easter Break. In the end, all that was needed was one more day from Giuseppe. The log bench and swing were installed and sanded by the students, and the fence was completed. Meanwhile, Luigi and the students completed the bench. During the work on the bench we noticed that the back rest was slightly too high. We tried a mirror-of-the-self test by putting a somewhat lower stone next to it, and decided to lower it by about 10 centimeters, which Luigi shaved off the large stone forming the center of the back-rest with his chain saw.

One day walking in Sorrento I saw a portal with a keystone and a flower pattern carved into it. I imagined this flower pattern at the center of the back-rest of the bench, strengthening its symmetry and drawing the gaze to it. Anushka and Saakshi spent a morning learning the pattern and designing a mock-up so that we could decide on its size and position. I asked Luigi if he would be willing to carve it, and he suggested that one of the students do it. Anushka volunteered, she prepared a trial carving with some assistance from Ankit, and then another one which was a little less successful. Then came the time for the real thing…

Inspiration from around Sorrento

Mocking up the bench



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The Flower ornament explained by Anushka:

With the help of Luigi, I understood the use of the power tools, and started working on a spare Tufo block to experiment. Saakshi and I had earlier done two stencils to get the size of the flower right, and that helped to mark out the flower border on the stone using a pencil. After this, I needed to learn how to work with the different bits of the carving drill, and make sure I carved just enough to get the curves and dips of the flower right. Eventually, with the help of Ankit, I was able to finish the first experimental carving. The second carving was done to get my techniques right, and to see if there were any other possible methods to work more easily. With that done, we took the mockups to the bench to check the feeling of how the bench was made even more beautiful and a stronger centre with the flower.

The next day the actual work began. It was my final chance to get the carving right on the bench. We aligned the stencil to the centre of the bench, and after everyone’s approval on the position, I marked out the border using a pencil and started the work. The trick in the whole process was to keep focusing on the border and the central circle, and to make sure that each dip I was making for the petals was smoothly curved and was right in its individual feeling. After getting the petals initial carving done, I asked Luigi to do the central dome, as it was the most difficult part of the process. This time it was on a vertical plane that made it even more difficult. After he did that, I strengthened the border one last time and then worked with manual carving tools to get the flower overall smoothed out.

After a few more touch-ups, the flower was done. The overall bench the flower added brought the whole place together — as a stronger center. The bench made the whole place a better center, and the feeling of the place that was earlier marked by most of us as 2 in our feeling assessment, was now 4, which is the score for a place having the best feeling.

Yodan continues: On the next to last day, the bench was almost finished. I noticed some feeling of unease with regard to the arm rest extending towards the left side of the bench which is longer. I tried out lengthening it with a few pieces of stone. It seemed to me to be better, giving better closure to the bench, and better local symmetry. I asked all the students to confirm this, and once confirmed, I sent the measurements to Luigi. The next morning he came in with the ready stone to replace the edge of the arm rest. The last day was spent finishing, cleaning up. On Thursday April 18th we held a small celebration, drinking sparkling wine and eating sweet pastries. Our building work for this year was finished.

Mohit’s thoughts about building in the Sant’Anna garden and Building Beauty:

“I choose Architecture because I always felt that space is something that is related to a "Personal thing". I got into the best Architecture school in Mumbai, India through a lot of hard work. The architecture practice that is taught in my institution is very rigid. Perhaps I got used to it so I got promoted through all the years. When I first read about Building Beauty, I could somehow relate it to my personal interests and I applied for the program.

“Being here in Italy is a great opportunity for all of us. Building Beauty brought new hope in me that architecture can be interesting. Earlier I felt that architecture books are boring because the books that we referred to and read in my institution are all about modernism — all these forms which don't have a form language and no relation with other space. But as soon as I started reading Nature of Order and Pattern Language, I became interested in reading them and experiencing what they described. All the teachers who visit us and are with us are just incredible. I wish to stay longer and keep working with all of them. I hope one day, I will be able to work with them on different projects. I thank you, Maggie Moore, Alexander and all the teachers for giving me this golden opportunity to be a part of this amazing community. I also wish to come back here and meet all the teachers and the students to come.”

Anushka’s thoughts about what she has learned: “When I dance, I am at peace with myself. In three years of architecture school in India, I never felt this peace, but I did feel it this year at Building Beauty in the design of a house for myself.”

Ankit’s thoughts: “This year at Building Beauty I learned that I am valuable, and that seeing things in a positive light is good, not bad like I learned in architecture school in India.  Building Beauty people have put me back on the right path of being myself, being positive, and that that is OK.  I refuse to be killed by architectural cynicism.”

The Building Beauty staff is grateful for the contributions this year’s students have made to the program, the Sant’Anna Garden, and our ongoing quest to establish an international community that is engaged in building beauty.

Maggie Moore