A Chapter on Doorknobs
Ornament has not always been favorably received. In a celebrated 1908 essay, architect Adolph Loos went so far as to link ornament and crime. Mies van derRohe’s famous dictum, “less is more,” set the aesthetic tone for way-too-many glass box clones of his own meticulously calibrated buildings, until Robert Venturi’s “less is abore” brought in the age of postmodernism and the reintroduction and use, albeit ironical or whimsical, of ornament.
The swirls and flourishes of our escutcheon within a centrally symmetrical whole are simply lovely. It is beauty beyond function, a short piece by Mozart in a different medium. Sometimes more is more.
So, someday when you’re in Ayrshire, an area famous as the birthplace of Robert Burns, stop in at Culzean, a castle situated prominently on a cliff on Scotland’s rugged coast. Robert Adam made extensive additions to the fortified house on the site of a medieval castle. You’ll see elegant Adam’s rooms and, surprisingly in this remote and picturesque outpost, a roomd edicated to General Eisenhower, with a portrait, his desk, quotations, and other displays. Moreover, “he was given part of the castle, for his lifetime, to show the gratitude of the Scots to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.” Yes, Eisenhower slept there.
When you leave Culzean, repair immediately to a 17th or 18th century pub. Reflect on and then toast the following: good generals and commanders in chief who know when and where to fight, Robert Adam, curved lines, gratitude, elegance and beauty in all its forms, the particular doorknobs and escutcheons in residence at your alma mater, your alma mater, all good civil engineers whose aesthetic sensibilities include curvilineality, and, finally, one fine civil engineer who saw the need at his alma mater for doors beautiful beyond function: Herb Johnson(CE ‘51) who donated the McCormick doors in loving memory of his wife Dorothy.
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