Thursday, February 2, 2012


Photo courtesy Flickr

When European urban design was working its way into American curricula, a graduate student pointed out that the paving blocks that are such an elegant part of a Euro streetscape are good economy: if one is damaged, it’s simple to replace. Installation is more expensive, but it pays off in the end.

An aunt who was married to a career Marine introduced me to the joys of one-foot squares of sea grass matting. She picked hers up for pennies at the Original Import Store in SF and explained that the squares are easy to reconfigure after a move. I inherited her matting at one point, and ever since, my private life has taken place on an orderly grid of biodegradable yellow ochre braided grass. The matting is period for any American interior back to the early nineteenth century and makes a complementary background for area rugs.

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright said that his mother set up a play table for him when he was five. The top was covered with a grid of squares, and every time he used the surface he was learning design relationships. It may be that Wright’s mother was working from the educational wisdom described in Norman Brosterman’s Reinventing Kindergarten. Brosterman lays out the origins of twentieth century art in his discussion of nineteenth-century mass education and architectural toys.

Covering a floor with one foot squares of anything makes it a snap to measure a room and its contents. I’m in a classic housekeeping bind: the dining room floor is a disgrace, and the lot next door is slated for development. It makes no sense to sink cash into a new floor covering. As it happens, though, I have an attic room full of extra matting in good shape, and doing something about the pitiful scraps under the dining room table will be a simple matter of counting squares, cutting out the weary areas, and sewing in replacements.

Modular is heaven. To make it even better, this modular will compost and is a product of wetlands.


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