Duck Duck Book

43 – space, style, and structure
03.4.2007, 12:02 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Space, style, and structure : building in Northwest America / Thomas Vaughan, editor ; Virginia Guest Ferriday, associate editor.
Portland, Or. : Oregon Historical Society, 1974.
[MCL call number: 720.979 V369s (two volumes); seven copies, no holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

If you want to know about the buildings in our region, what they are like, where they came from, who has used them, and who made them, Space, Style, and Structure is a good place to start.  Although it purports to be a comprehensive history of architecture in the entire Pacific Northwest, its focus is more on Oregon than our neighbor states and provinces, and the parts on Oregon deal more with Portland and the towns of the Willamette Valley than the rest of the state.  However, the book is still valuable as a jumping-off point for anyone seeking an education in the regional history of buildings and architecture. 

Space, Style, and Structure is presented chronologically, in sections devoted to “Origins” (indigenous peoples’ architecture before the arrival of white people, and structures built by the first settler-traders and missionaries), “Pioneer Days,” “Railroad Era,” “Motor Age,” and “Freeway Forms.”  Each section begins with an essay on the regional setting during the period under discussion, followed by essays on development in selected cities and towns, and several brief chapters on specific buildings, gardens, building styles, architectural functions, and other related topics. 

Each chapter has a different author, but the narrative flow and the style of writing is fairly regular throughout.  I would guess that this is due to the vigilance of the editors, and it is an asset to the book.  Still, the writing style can be somewhat florid at times.  Vaughn’s introduction, in particular, suffers from overwriting.  For example, here he characterizes human prehistory:

“The times were almost beyond our conception — eons and then millennia ago — when our hunting ancestors huddled together in the darkness.  Ravening beasts of horrendous description were masters of the night, carrying off their meal from the weakest and the luckless.  The age is barely recorded when men fought beasts not only for food, but over food and to decide who was going to occupy some dry cave or overhang.

“After all, from immemorial time reason tells us that when they could get them our ancestors craved shelter and protection, which meant something over their heads for security such as the vaulted gallery of a cave and eventually the first mud walls, skins and willows or a crude rooftree.  Architecture is first and foremost linked to one of the necessities of life — a shelter.” (page xiv)

The book suffers somewhat from its massive size — it is more than seven hundred large pages in two extremely heavy volumes — and from the fact that although each volume has a separate table of contents which treats only the material in that volume, there is one index for both volumes printed only at the end of volume two.  To make matters worse, the index is only passably useful.  However, as much as I can argue about the details, there is still no getting around the fact that Space, Style, and Structure stands alone as the only book to attempt to explain the complex history of architecture across the Pacific Northwest.  The stories that are told here are told clearly, they are well illustrated, and even more importantly, they are augmented with careful notes and bibliographies to aid future research.


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