Ben Deaver wakes up

09-30__88487.1405340780.480.480Here is a passage from the latest novel, A History of the Future, in Jim Kunstler’s World Made by Hand trilogy – he is working on making it into a quartet. The novels take place a few years after some parts of the country are able to regenerate life in a more natural way after the world runs out of oil, the electricity stops and the U.S. economy, along with most of the rest of the world, implodes, sending its regions into war with one another. But Union Grove, in upstate New York, is isolated enough to have avoided most of the violence and it is learning how to rebuild a worthy life in ways not seen since, say, 1850. In this passage, two characters approach the house of a prosperous farmer who was once a top airline exec “before the collapse.”

They continued [on foot] up Huddle Road, a steep grade, around the back of Pumpkin Hill, until they came to the drive that led up to Ben Deaver’s house. It was a new house, built in a style and using methods that had been long forgotten in the United States of America. Deaver built it after giving up on the so-called contemporary custom house he had originally bought when he retired from United Airlines, a few years before the collapse. That first house was a grandiose thing of soaring angles and gigantic triangular plate glass windows designed to erase the boundaries between being inside and being outside. It proved impossible to heat without propane gas and electricity, and as the economy dissolved the house’s conceits annoyed him to an extreme, so Deaver decided to build a new house in the traditional style and manner. At the center of it was a substantial sttack of masonry chimneys that acted as a heat reservoir for the house’s multiple fireplaces. The system incorporated several ovens and a cook surface made of sheet steel in the big kitchen. …

Savvy readers will find their minds harking back to the passage in my last column, on Brown’s engineering school, that describes how these traditional building methods are not a step back from science but an attempt to regenerate updated versions of the sustainable technologies that heated and cooled buildings in the pre-thermostat age. But, to continue …

On the outside, Deaver’s house looked like it was built in the times of James Madison, with a pedimented portico, a wood fan ornament in each gable end, and shutters that actually closed. Along the hundred-foot-long entrance drive he had planted a formal allee of shagbark hickories. They were still young and he knew that he would not live long enough to see them in their glory, but was it not the case, Ben Deaver thought, that everyone in history who planted a big tree did it for succeeding generations? As an investment in the future? To express confidence in the continuity of the human project?

Andrew and Jack approached the house between the ranks of the young hickory trees in silent reverence induced by the beauty of the large building and its setting.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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