From here you can almost see the blue monkeys, the kri-kri shyly turning, the saffron-gatherers multi-skirted, brightly colored on the ridge of the high rolling Cretan hills. From where you are, well, I cannot know where you are or what you see, yet I am rather certain that what you see is seen through the lens of Greece, the birthplace of Civilization, of you and of me. All that we are comes first from Greece. Mid-Century Modern tradition.
Yesterday, a visit to Gournia, the old palace near Mirabello Bay, mostly now low rock tight rooted to olive, boxed in rows of rooms not unlike yours. With little imagination we see the long slow history of architecture, the old block to the new block, the Minoan to the International Style, little different, each a blank, spare wall punctuated by window and door bay, as elevation suits plan, as both suit need.
Long before the mods’ “machines for living”, were machines for life, the hot and cold running water of Queen Ariadne’s bath, the well-lit, well-aired inner rooms of four stories and more, the logic of floorplan that some might call modern, a logic common to Daedalus,* Phidias, Palladio, Mies, T.G. Smith, and others of our craft. We are rational, all. Notice how your rooms pace the day, how, if skilled, an architect will enjoy to you the light of dawn, of twilight in bedded private, of sun in the public noonday, and in-between the flicker of the intimate light that delights friends and family when gathered at supper’s table.
Alike the layers of history, here in Crete the landscape lies in long low horizontal bands stacked, each band a unique littoral zone suited to this life or that, as is seen in Ierapetra (A-pa-ta-wa in Linear B), southern-most city of Europe. In Ierapetra, a town pre-Minoan, history is layered both horizontal and vertical, Crete beneath Classical Greece, beneath Rome, beneath Byzantium (well, East Rome), beneath Arab Islam, beneath the Venetian, beneath Ottoman Islam, beneath Neo-Classical (Neo-Grec) which is admixed with the boxy Folk and high-style International.
Both the Folk and the International recall with pride, Greek tradition.** The Folk, most often with some rose-rust column that by association says, “Son of Minos”. The International more subtly speaks the language of Knossos, sometimes in a lintel that is posted upon concrete piers between which is found fine rock, tight-laid … the whole unstuccoed to tell of structure, the local pattern of building these four millennia. Occasionally, both the Folk and the International Cretans will respond as did the pre-Minoans to the ever-rolling waves, incising into the stucco layers of long undulating lines, or by painting the geometries of ever-curling waves.
I expect these patterns of building, the ancient international and folk styles, put you in mind of our Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs and our Mid-Century Modern tradition. We can see in Palm-Springs Modern that low layering of dry desert, the sparce aesthetic of simple want, the honest response to Nature unmediated by God. And too, notice that in each Mid-Century Modern, each man is a king, each king has a castle, each castle sports an oasis with its refreshing, life-giving water, the pool. You will not find in Crete pools, because water surrounds, abounds, fills the mind with the vision of cool, a cool much wanted in dry desert.
Our Palm-Springs Modern, and our Capital Modern, learn from Folk and International styles, both in the flat-roof and in the gabled-roof designs. The flat-roof, very much of the international folk style, is found wherever rock and concrete determine form. The low gable-roof is a folk solution found wherever rain or snow challenges ceilings. Both flat and gabled Mid-Century Modern designs betray the Classive tradition, no matter how much disguised by asymmetry. Most always, the architect will belie modernity by incorporating that necessary of ancient Greek villas, the atrium, an architectural device that invites the outside in.
Ours is an old tradition, some 90 years old, and the Mid-Century Modern is good for another 90, “another 900”, I would say. The Mid-Century Modern, especially the Palm-Springs Modern, is an honest style that alike all folk styles responds to its environment. True, a desperate reliance upon non-native energy will often interrupt convenience, as has recently occurred; even so, logic and reason unhampered by political expedience will allow our native, American Mid-Century Modern, to learn and to grow in beauty, as has the native style of Crete. Mid-Century Modern tradition.
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* You might be surprised to learn that Daedalus, Daidalous, father of Icarus, is credited as architect of Minos palace in the old, recently translated Linear B script (mod scholars were surprised … as you know, tenure and reputations stand upon destroying foundations). We Classives are rather more kind to received tradition, to the wisdom of others.
*You have noticed that our Anglo-American’s tend to name their diner’s “Sam’s Place” or “Elsie’s Magic Skillet” or some gaffer familiar name, while a Greek-American will title his diner “The Parthenon” or “Athena’s Feast”.
Featured image: The Propylaea, Acropolis, Athens. image credit: M. Curtis
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