Learning from Charles Moore’s Condo at The Sea Ranch

For each of us to feel at the center of our universe, we need to measure and describe points in space as people used to do—in terms of ourselves, not of the precise but meaningless relations of, for instance, Cartesian coordinates or ‘rational’ geometries.

 

← Back To IA Theory

One of the most profound places I’ve ever lazed about: the window seat in Charles Moore’s condominium at The Sea Ranch in Sonoma County, California.

One of the most profound places I’ve ever lazed about: the window seat in Charles Moore’s condominium at The Sea Ranch in Sonoma County, California.

Last week I got to spend three nights in Charles Moore’s condominium at The Sea Ranch. His nephews have kept the place largely the way Moore left it to them upon his passing in 1993: plain on the outside, and a multi-sensory extravaganza on the inside.

In addition to preserving Moore’s literal menagerie of toys, architectural models, trinkets, and idols, the condo was equipped with several books about Charles Moore. In one of those books, I came across these 5 design principles. What a treat, to spend time in a place that resulted from these very principles becoming operative in the world. In the statements that follow, try swapping-out the word “buildings” for the phrase “digital products + services.”

How’s that work for you?

Principle 1: If we are to devote our lives to making buildings, we have to believe that they are worth it, that they live and speak (of themselves, and the people who made them and thus inhabit them), and can receive investments of energy and care from their inhabitants, and can store those investments, and return them augmented.

Bread cast on water come back as club sandwiches!

Principle 2: If buildings are to speak, they must have freedom of speech. It seems to me that one of the most serious dangers to architecture is that people may just lose interest in it… If architecture is to survive in the human consciousness, then the things buildings can say, be they wistful or wise or powerful or gently or heretical or silly, have to respond to the wide range of human feelings.

Principle 3: Buildings must be inhabitable by the bodies, minds and memories of humankind. To urge to dwell, to inhabit, to enhance, and protect a piece of the world, to fashion an inside and to distinguish it from the outside, is one of the basic human drives, but it has by now been so thwarted that the act often requires help, and surrogates which can stand upright (like chimneys or columns) or grow and flourish (like plants) or move and dance (like light) can act as important allies of inhabitation.

Principle 4: For each of us to feel at the center of our universe, we need to measure and describe points in space as people used to do—in terms of ourselves, not of the precise but meaningless relations of, for instance, Cartesian coordinates or ‘rational’ geometries. Soon after our birth we arrive at a sense of front and back, left and right, up, down, and centre, which are so strong that we can and do assign moral significance to them. Our architecture needs to remember them, too, so that we can feel with our whole bodies the significance of where we are, not just see it with our eyes or reason it out in our minds.

Principle 5: The spaces we feel, the shapes we see, and the ways we move in buildings should assist the human memory in reconstructing connections through space and time.