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Unholy Architecture

February 23, 2021

Recently, I travelled with several companions to a large metropolitan area in the southwest of the greater United States. The city itself, is large, considerably bigger than most people realize and while unbearably hot in the summer, is often quite pleasant in the winter months. There is a river that meanders through part of the city, I spent little time along its banks, but it struck me as slow moving and flat, as if the heat of the desert oppressed it to in the summer, and in the winter months it was just happy to lazily enjoy the respite. Although it boasts of the mountains around it, the city itself is flat. Kansas state flat.
The mountains are singular in that they are bare rock thrusting out of the earth, like the fingertips of a giant that was buried in a shallow grave and had just enough life left to fight part way out, but not enough to escape his fate. While my companions went golfing, a sport of which I am familiar, but don’t place any great interest in, I spent some time climbing among those bleak peaks. However, it is not those sojourns that I intend to speak for while they were perhaps not as lush as other mountains, they held their own kind of beauty.
There was once living in the city an architect that is fairly well known that fled the cold winters of the north for the more pleasant warmth of the south. He had been commissioned to design a hotel in the city back when the city was small. Small enough that one wonders how such a undertaking took place and if there was something else behind the dealings. He had driven out here with an entourage of red cars. One imagines the vehicles being bright red, like a red carpet, but in retrospect I wonder if the color was more that of sacrificial blood. Though in fairness the man preferred a sort of orange red more in keeping with the coloring of creatures that lurked beneath the surface of the sea and clung to the sandy depths.
To his home I headed. It was a museum, a landmark, and had a foundation to preserve it. Along the winding roads I travelled before disembarking from my vehicles and approaching the ticket booth. There was a list of suggested donations in order to be guided through the sanctum, the minimum of which was required and I paid. The gatekeeper wouldn’t accept cash, requiring plastic so that my name and identity be entered into the roles of those that had pilgrimaged here.
Then I waited. Even on the border of the the demesnes, I was greeted by strange monoliths with peculiar angles that seemed to shift and change depending on my position, as if they followed an inhuman geometry that only something alien could understand fully or appreciate.
Finally an acolyte led us reverently into the abode. In fairness, the architect was an innovator, Many things that are now taken for granted in the west and are common place were his ideas, especially as light is used in our homes, businesses and public places. He had a knack for acoustics as well and one could hear without aid the words of people spoken across a long room, even with their back turned, as if they were speaking to you privately. And yet, I considered the cliché that genius and madness were siblings, perhaps twins and there seemed to me more than a touch of the later. There was more tragedy in the man’s life than normal, a wife and children murdered, apparently the butler did it. An old joke, though true in this case, but no one laughed. Fires, destruction all manner of misfortune followed him.
There were pictographs placed a certain junctures that drew the eye to them, and there was a symbol repeated in the structures. A symbol the man had a fondness for and which the guide informed us was a stylized version of a pictograph. The symbol was similar to ones I had come across in my work and it made me uneasy. Those symbols were used by certain groups used to identify each other. People that kept to the shadows and did things that civilized people found distasteful.
Whether that symbol had a similar meaning all those years ago when this man lived I was unsure, but still I was reminded how people often like to flaunt their secrets as some kind of joke that only those in the know would understand. I was told that he had endeavored to make the home part of the landscape, using the angles and shapes that could be found in the wilderness. Organic was the word used.
Yet the place felt incompatible with its surrounding, not part of the earth. There were pools and fountains, that tapped out a rhythm on bell like structures, but I noted no animals there, no birds flew among the orange trees that grew in a stunted orchard nearby. No insects hummed. As if the some primal instinct kept the natural world at bay.
What I did see were shapes from my childhood, and color combinations that made me shudder despite the warmth of the day and the sunlight shining upon my shoulders. Anemic blues next to cold orange. Earthy tones that clashed with other hues, and oppressive structures that felt like they were stripping the humanity from me as I tread down the narrow pentagonal corridors. All had been imitated, by less gifted followers of the man that designed this place, in the schools and public places of my youth. Discordant and uncomfortable settings without beauty or even consideration for the people that had to use them, reside in them, live in them.
It lacked even the cold aesthetic of brutalism, or the austere form and function or some of the more empty places. This architecture made one feel that there was an intelligence behind it. A living force and it was hostile to humanity. An intentional abuse of space and pigment meant to contort and twist the people within. I wondered at the people that left children in schools fashioned along these lines. Could they not feel what I felt? Did they not care?
I noted in passing that the bed the man slept in had a partition between the husband and wife’s side of the bed, remembered puritans used something similar when guests stayed the night, space and bedding being limited. I wondered about it, but our guide didn’t mention it, and none of my fellow travelers seemed curious enough to ask. There was a strange hush to them as well. Usually there is a garrulous individual or two that wants to flaunt there knowledge of the place, but nonesuch materialized here on this day.
I did not tarry there and left immediately once the tour was done. No time did I linger in the gift shop as I often will looking at trinkets and mementos. The sun seemed brighter as I drove away, as if some cloud, in this cloudless day, had obscured the sun before moving on.
That evening I rejoined my companions. Among them was a friend of theirs that lived in the city. She suffered from a physical malady that gave rise to some sympathy other than pity, her significant other lived far away. Funny the terms we get used to using. In another time, it would have been husband or spouse, now it is a more generalize and less specific term. Asked how that worked, having observed that most relationships that are long distance don’t work, and was told that it had worked for them for several years.
As we regaled each other with stories and funny anecdotes from the day, the subject of this house came up and how repellent I found it. The young woman was a huge fan of the architect. When I voiced my misgivings, she laughed and told me that there had been rumors of dark dealings up there when the man and his wife were alive but the stories were more of things regarding a sexual nature than anything else.
I am no psychic and make no claim to have powers of observation greater than any other, but I told them once about when I had gone into business for myself and a building owner had shown me a space to rent and I had walked into the area and immediately felt something was off about the space. When I asked the owner what the deal was with the office space, he had turned sheepish and said, “I suppose I should tell you, the last three tenants committed suicide.”
That had been enough for me to find a different location. I had gotten the same feeling from that building. My friends laughed and called me superstitious, but the young lady looked at me in a peculiar, almost the way that landlord had years ago, “funny that you say that, there are an unusual number of suicides in the buildings he designed.”
I noticed my companions weren’t nearly as jovial then.

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