the enigma of arrival: first impressions
This is a continuation of the story of our newly purchased house, exploring the concept of “arriving” and “getting to know” as phenomena we experience daily in our physical world, especially as it applies to architecture. After seeing the house advertised on our favorite real estate website, we quickly became obsessed with it. Landis saw it first, and told me about it; in the busy-ness of life the conversation died completely for a day or two, but in one of those afternoon pauses at my desk, I found myself looking at it again. From the five photos shown, I tried to draw a floor plan, getting it about 75 percent correct by using architectural puzzle skills. There were still mysteries, but I was certainly hooked. I wanted to see it, as much to understand its layout as to look at it as a potential real estate purchase.
Finally, my curiosity got the best of me, and I did a preview drive-by, when Landis was away at a conference. This visit was an important step in getting to know the house, and it was probably quite fortuitous that I made that visit. Because it was then that I had to reconcile the carefully chosen realtor’s photographs with what it felt like when I was there. While the photographs emphasized its isolated setting surrounded by trees and greenery, being there in person—even from the street—emphasized a very different aspect: access to the house was via a shared driveway, and the initial impression looking down that driveway was a bit off-putting. First, there was the very close proximity of the neighbor and, second, there was the sea of asphalt that surrounded the house on the arrival side. I was reminded of the inherent editing nature of photography. Although intellectually we understand that photographs represent significant compositional and content decisions made by the photographer, we still intuitively see them as objective observations of reality. We see them as “anti-interventionist”, (a concept I vaguely remember from Susan Sontag). It wasn’t that the photographs lied; they just isolated the house in an idyllic moment, and edited compromising context. For instance, I realized that one of the photographs suggesting spaciousness on the approach side had to be taken with the photographer’s back literally against the neighbor’s house.
I drove away quite disappointed, and was sure Landis would hate the approach as much as I had. But within a few hours, before I had a chance to tell him of my scouting trip (which only consisted of looking at the house from the street), I no longer saw the approach as a reason to write off the house. In the language of Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I had received my “call to adventure”, rejected it, and then again (and already) felt its insistent tug. However, I knew it was important for Landis to know about my observations, otherwise the same disappointment that I suffered would likewise sully his impression when he first visited.
Finally, one late spring Sunday, we attended an open house, and finally, a proper introduction was made. Or, perhaps, again from Joseph Campbell, we figuratively and metaphorically crossed the threshold.