Vitruvius, Rykwert and FabCab

The frontispiece to Laugier's Essai of 1753

I am new at FabCab but not to architecture. I have been licensed as an architect for twenty years, and try to take a holistic approach: it all matters, from big societal issues to construction detailing. I found FabCab’s values and designs appealing from the start, and have been thinking about why that might be.

A work of architecture must consider and resolve many competing issues and values. Architects strive for their work to resolve and uphold these multiple values simultaneously. This is not new; the manifold nature of what a work of architecture has to address has been apparent for millennia. The Roman architect Vitruvius laid out a set of values in his treatise the Ten Books on Architecture, still an inspiration to architects. The three values he identified, the “Vitruvian” values, are most often still expressed in English as translated by the 17th C. English architect Inigo Jones: “Commodity, Firmness and Delight.”

Jones’ terms bear some explaining these days:

Commodity: which is to say, accommodating and useful.

Firmness: that is, structural and building envelope integrity – a building must resist gravity and the weather.

Delight: a work of architecture is delightful when it is beautiful and a pleasant space to dwell in. Delight is dependent in part on the success of the other values; one won’t delight for long in a building that isn’t accommodating or stout.

FabCab and the Vitruvian Values
FabCab incorporates often-overlooked aspects of design into an attractive, not-so-big package. Emory’s FabCab designs represent an excellent realization of the Vitruvian values, including contemporary elaborations and extensions of those values:

Commodity: FabCab has defined the needs of the user in an admirably broad way, recognizing that all of us have different physical dimensions and abilities, and also that our needs and abilities change over time. This sensibility and design done in accord with this sensibility have come to be known as Universal Design. FabCab is a leader in Universal Design.

Firmness: FabCab’s building system, incorporating timber-frame and SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels), is stout and durable. Nowadays, Firmness must also incorporate the values of sustainability. A FabCab does this as well: The timber frame is an ideal application for reclaimed wood beams from demolished buildings, and SIPs is a low-impact, efficient wall system with a high insulation value. A FabCab can also accommodate photovoltaics or a green roof. It can be erected as urban infill on a vacant lot or as an accessory dwelling unit, both efficient uses of land that promote livability, walkability and therefore sustainability.

Delight: when the first FabCab was shown at the Seattle Home Show in 2010, it delighted a good many people. I believe that their delight stemmed not only from the accommodating Universal Design and the stoutness of the timber frame, but also from the sense that this simple form brings to mind an archetypal place of refuge. Joseph Rykwert, in his book On Adam’s House in Paradise: The Idea of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History, discusses the deep cultural attachment that humans have had through the ages to simple, enfolding and iconic building forms. A FabCab is by no means primitive, but it shelters and enfolds us in a simple, beautiful and delightful way.

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