Monet & Architecture

The Customs Officer’s Cottage, Varengeville, France, 1882, oil on canvas

On the one hand, I feel a little silly when I tell people I want to pursue architecture as a future career – especially when I’m no spring chicken.  On the other hand, it pays off sometimes, making a little embarrassment worth my while.

And that is how I ended up being loaned a copy of Monet & Architecture.

The book is a companion to an art exhibition by the same name held in London last spring.  The author and curator is credited with being the first to explore what role architecture played in Claude Monet’s landscapes.

I am not a painter, nor an academic, but I was surprised how interesting this book was to me.  I didn’t spend a whole lot of extra time trying to understand every concept, but I got enough out of it to appreciate what the exhibit was trying to convey.  A short list of my takeaways:

  • Architecture balances the chaos of nature with the order of structures.
  • Architecture balances the horizontal landscape (water, horizon, sky) with the verticalness of spires, towers, smokestacks.
  • Buildings in an otherwise uninhabited space give a sense of human presence.
  • Buildings provide a feeling of protection, safety, refuge from less than ideal environmental conditions (snow, rain, wind).
  • Architecture introduces human progression and modernity to a timeless landscape (sea, cliff, river, hill).
  • Monet was practically a documentarian – recording manmade changes to the landscape in real time.

To me, The Customs Officer’s Cottage is an example of several of these aspects.

Now that I’ve read the book, I regret having put off reading Monet & Architecture for all these months.  I guess I thought it would be too deep, too artsy, too academic, too irrelevant to me.  Then the guilt for having been entrusted with this book by someone who must, at some level, believe in me (and because it actually came from the London exhibit), finally caught up with me.  Now, when I see him again, I’ll be proud to say that I’ve read Monet & Architecture and that it had an impact on me.

For one, I have a greater appreciation for Monet, who he was and how he worked (and how I wish I had gone on that tour to Giverny with my sister when I was in Paris last summer), and two, I have a deepened respect for the role of architecture – in art, in history, and now, in the range of human emotion a structure can communicate.

That’s a lot of responsibility for an architect.  It’s important to get it right.