”That frame — in a timber frame — defines the building. Everything else is a facade. That frame is what will allow it to stand up tall and strong and rugged for the next 200 years. […] The roof will come and go, side walls may come and go, windows will come and go; but that frame — that will be there for a long time.”
-Tedd Benson, timber framer
For anyone unfamiliar with my personal history, I used to work as a carpenter for a local home builder. As one of only two to three (including the owner) on the crew, I was involved with nearly every stage of the homebuilding process — from rough framing (spanning floor joists and laying down subfloor, putting up walls, setting roof trusses and getting the jack rafters just right, sheathing the exterior walls and roof, building stair structures, etc.) to the more polished work of finish carpentry (putting down hardwood floors, fitting base and window moulding, hanging doors, installing stair and balcony rails, etc.).
I’m fortunate (and proud) to have had the opportunity to experience that level of hands-on work with structures which will stand for decades; it makes for a nice professional contrast with the relative impermanance and perpetual iteration of the Web Things™ I build in my current field.
So when I saw Kevin O’Connel (of This Old House) interviewing documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and builder Tedd Benson about their approach to building an authentic-to-traditional-spirt timber-framed barn, I was instantly engaged.
What I didn’t expect was the sense of history, philosophy, and professional purpose with which timber framer Tedd Benson spoke about his work; including morsels such as this:
”Barns are agrarian cathedrals, and they were built by people who were a part of an endless chain of knowledge, skill, and an attitude that ‘when we build, we should build forever’. So — though they sacrificed something about the ornate qualities of building — when they built barns, they didn’t sacrifice anything else. They just reduced materials to simplicity, and then brought all of their skills, all of their knowledge, all of that ancient wisdom to create these wonderful buildings that are part of that sacred tradition.”
I won’t pretend that my approach to building homes was as deeply rooted as Benson’s (few could possibly be) — but the ability to speak with ease about the history and philosophy of one’s chosen profession is a quality for which I have profound respect in craft-focused practitioners of all types.
In what I’ve seen from the people I most admire, that depth of awareness of purpose and context seems to require a mindful balancing of qualities so seemingly disparate as hyper-involvement in one’s craft, and a degree of separation (proactive removal?) from the work directly at hand.
If I ever figure it out, I’ll be sure to pass along the magic mix.