The Inspiration Monday series is designed to give you a selection of places to look for inspiration for whatever art you create, from writing to quilting, from dance to pottery. There are places and things to inspire you everywhere, no matter how blocked you feel!
Alright, I confess. I’m a bit of an architecture nut. I’m lucky. I live in a country that is just bursting with fabulous buildings, from the modest to the outrageous. So much has survived from our long past, and so much is being produced now that is thrilling and new.
Architecture provides a great inspiration, even if you are not into history, as I am. It is especially useful as a starting point for the visual arts (how about making a quilt based on architectural motifs from your local area, especially if you live in a place that has an interesting and original vernacular architecture of its own.)
For a writer, architecture can be more than just set dressing. Think of the magnificence of the stately home, Brideshead, in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, ‘Brideshead Revisited’, a building whose ornate Catholic imagery permeates the relationships of all the characters. Or perhaps the dark secrets represented by the rambling corridors of Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, where the gothic corners hide secrets that threaten the happiness of the unnamed heroine.
Architecture is not just about the grand mansions of the rich and privileged. The sqallid, shabby, utilitarian flats of Orwell’s ‘1984’ are just as terrifying as the monumental Ministry of Truth. Or perhaps the rickety walkways and rookeries of Oliver Twist’s Victorian slum dwellers, or the eponymous ‘L-Shaped Room’ described by Lynne Reid Banks.
I’ve had a fascination with the building pictured above for some years now. It’s eccentric and rather alarming pitch to one side only makes me love it more. I’ve made it the home of one of the characters in my new novel. In fact, it would not be so far fetched to say that this house has inspired the entire novel.
Compare the pictures below, and consider the kinds of stories that might happen in each, architecturally different, setting:
Architecture can be the starting point for your art and writing. It can be set dressing, atmosphere, even a character in its own right. Using architecture as a starting point can ground your work in it’s local context, add weight to the story, place it in a particular time, economic class, religious mode or social millieu. You can say a great deal about your characters through the kinds of houses they live in, the buildings where they work and worship, and why they choose these and not others.
Writing Exercise: Look Up
Porch heraldry, Blickling Hall, Norfolk (NT)
Next time you are walking around town, look up above the shop fronts. You usually spend your time looking into the plate glass windows at all those gorgeous things you can’t afford. You may not notice the kinds of buildings they are housed in.
In Britain and across Europe, you may see fascinating architectural details that you never noticed before, even in a street you have walked up all your life. In other countries, you may see less history, and more the story of the way the architecture is used by it’s inhabitants, the way they have added to it, moulded it to their own needs over time. What kind of lives are lived out behind these walls? What stories have these beams and doorframes witnessed?
You might like to learn to read a building, to spend some time researching architecture in your area, the little quirks that are local. In most countries you will find builders have used the materials that come to hand: wooden logs, local stone, thatch, reeds, brick of different colours, pantiles. What is local to your area? What is the local style? What shapes do the buildings make – are they low, huddling to the ground against the weather, or do they tower above the streets, dwarfing the inhabitants, statements of power and wealth? Can you incorporate this into your art? What does it say about the kinds of lives people live, and have lived, around you?
I like the way light plays with achitecture and particularly enjoy the theatrics of it when the Vivid Festival happens here in Sydney each year.