“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity: and I’m not sure about the universe.” Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
‘A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
It was somewhat of a rarity, even in the coastal town of Lion’s Bay – a half-acre lot of pristine second-growth forest where majestic wind-swept Douglas firs had defiantly stood for at least eighty years. These were skirted below by fantastically twisted Shore pines and undulating Arbutus trees with peeling bark in hues of ochre, green and redwood. The understory was eloquently restrained and consisted of a vast carpet of licorice fern flowing over emergent bedrock, accompanied by an occasional sword fern, vine maple, red huckleberry shrub and intermittent patches of Oregon grape. The tall Douglas firs were a favourite of the local Bald eagle population who fed and roosted in their lofty crowns, and I would often watch them from the adjacent property, where I maintained an established garden. Then came the ominous real estate sign that was erected curbside in front of the forested lot – in less than a week it was plastered with that filthy four-letter word…SOLD.
For the longest time afterwards nothing seemed to happen, but then one day I noticed some of the neighbors taking away rolls of licorice fern (they literally peeled off the bedrock like turf) and other scavenged shrubbery in their respective wheelbarrows. When I enquired as to what they were doing, I was told that the forest was going to be cleared for impending construction and that the architect/owner had given them permission to salvage any plants they wanted. Initially, I was encouraged to learn that an architect was developing the property – but then they cut down most of the trees and started to remove all semblance of native vegetation.
Still giving them the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that they were just exposing the underlying bedrock, which with its veins and flowlines can be an incredibly beautiful architectural feature – but then the drilling and blasting commenced, so I had to further lower my expectations. After some minimal concrete footings were poured, the framing began and despite the obvious influences of the adjacent ocean and forest, three wooden cubes emerged. These were fitted with proportionately boring square windows and coated with glow-in-the-dark white stucco – the latter was no doubt an homage to the purity of the distant snow-capped mountains.
I can best describe the end result as a trio of giant sugar cubes, slightly offset and stacked in sequence over tiers of blasted bedrock. They were surrounded on three sides by a paper-thin ‘U’ of forest remains, with a gaping oceanside view hole. It was, to say the very least, painful to look at given the stunning natural beauty it had replaced and one could tell at a glance that the architect had been deeply influenced by the ‘I want to gouge my eyes out’ school of architecture – which also brought us yellow vinyl siding, the geodesic dome carport (apologies to Buckminster Fuller) and aquariums in elevators (further apologies to the long-suffering tropical fish). The community at large had been expecting an organic, environmentally influenced home such as those created by Arthur Erickson, but what they got instead was nothing short of IKEA’s worst nightmare. In fact, the only organic aspect of this monstrosity was its nickname, as the locals referred to it as ‘Picasso’s pile of shit’ (their words, not mine…no doubt a veiled reference to the architect’s failed attempt to channel Pablo’s cubism period through his design).
The Haida gods must have been equally appalled because as soon as it was completed, they pissed down on it for forty days with fierce coastal rains, after which time the white stucco started turning a lovely shade of moss green. The local eagles also pitched in, defecating as they left the few remaining Douglas fir perches and for the most part hitting their intended target – which made for quite an interesting palette. Within a year, contractors were already removing sections of stucco to replace water-damaged wood and insulation on this unintentional temporary monument to man’s stupidity.
It seems telling that while both architects and eagles are considered to be at the pinnacle of their respective societies, only the eagles had the common decency to deface what had already been irrevocably spoiled.