Composition of Loam

Below is short extract from the online discussion between Niall McLaughlin and Dominic Eley on books, reading and architecture. A great combo, which this blog seeks for.

Dominic : I think it is important to note your slight reluctance on addressing the literature that impacts your architecture. You were apprehensive about the insinuation that book equals building; that it could easily be misunderstood as you read a certain piece of literature and a building magically appears. During one of our discussions, you spoke about loam as an analogy for your relationship to reading and literature.

Niall : I do have a scepticism about architects showing off all their books and laying claim to a deep intellectual life that somehow has an equivalence in their buildings. I think I am sceptical to a degree about the idea that there’s a whole set of texts that I have read and a building that I have built and there is an equal sign between the two of them. It’s perfectly clear that many architects are extensive and careful readers and that reading must have some impact on the buildings that they are creating. However, unpicking the nature of that relationship seems to me to be trickier than creating any direct equivalences. I worry when I find myself, or others, at lectures reading from a text, and then the next thing is there’s a photograph of the building, a direct equivalence between the two appears. So, this is the idea of loam; the layers of soil that build up in a garden or a woodland. Whatever grows out of that loam is naturally dependent on it, but the relationship between the nourishing substructure growth is not as direct, or as necessary, as some people think. That was the metaphor I was using when discussing the tension in this lecture.” (emphasis mine)

(Click on the image to enlarge)

I felt this metaphor of the ‘loam’ is apt at so many levels. If we zoom out a bit, it could be between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’. There need not be a ‘direct equivalence’ but it can be a ‘nourishing substructure’. The metaphor can be interpreted at multiple levels – the seed in the soil can grow into any form or shape. It can also be about how different constituents (sand, silt and slay) make the soil fertile. The heterogenous nature of the constituents – a framework so well suited for the composition of faculties in a school and the triangle being the ‘school of thought’. Each component can be distinct and also co-exist with another component with a common ground / interests to operate. This also attaches well to the gardener metaphor used by Alison Gopnik for parenting (and teaching too) that “When we garden, on the other hand, we do not believe we are the ones who single-handedly create the cabbages or the roses. Rather, we toil to create the conditions in which plants have the best chance of flourishing.”

I came across a similar diagram by Anupama Kundoo – which she has labelled ‘inventory of battles’ – in which she talks about her ‘projects’ stemming from the process of ‘knowledge’. In this spectrum, I was curious that how teaching is an underground process – slow, unseen yet foundational. A good reminder for teachers to do what they do. 

Link to Anupama Kundoo drawing reference :