The Unpretentious Shed: A Texas Architype
The car rattles on a loose road as thick white dust rises from the back of its tires. On either side, seas of sunburned grass just barely keep themselves from breaking onto the path. The sky sits heavily on the flat horizon, as the fragrance of both wild and cultivated plants fill the air.
A couple of miles down the road, I reach an architectural destination that is often seen but hardly noticed. The immediate vicinity, is a dense group of trees, surrounded by cornfields. I pull off the road and look through the overgrown leaves that conceal a gable roof made of rust and timber. It is an abandoned shed, crafted by a bygone era. Cautiously, I walk through the brush making sure not to step on anything unwelcoming. The approach reveals a dilapidated structure that has become a shelter for the wild rather than functional. Without any attendance by its owner, the shed’s fate is accepting a new embrace from the natural world. Penetrated by lush plants, it tilts to one side from the decades of forceful winds. The presence of nature not only brings about a disturbance but an aesthetic that one could say matches the randomized patterns scripted into contemporary architecture. There is a strong lesson in the abandoned shed, its destitution provides us with the beginning of a new form. Louis Sullivan once said, “form follows function", but where there is no function, there is only form. As creators, and thinkers of space let's observe what once was, is no longer, and still is. The artist Donald Judd said, “forms must be given life and the right to individual existence,” and the abandoned shed does exactly that.
Once crafted and utilized to meet the needs of its owner, the structure now exists as a relic or a homage to the pioneer age. Made redundant by its cheap, quick, and prefabricated counterpart, whose movability flaunts itself at the edge of car parking lots. The result of hard work and unique individuality becomes outdated by a future of “efficiency”. When the time comes, usually sooner than later, nature starts to alter the building in different ways and the owner can make a decision to patch its holes by cloaking the barn with a quilted pattern of conveniently sized corrugated steel or let the shed weather away.
I wonder, what can be learned from these bygone structures? Is their half destroyed and disjunct pose a nod at deconstructivism? Could their utilitarian detailing be related to modernism and their traditional form result in post-modernism? Does anyone think of the Arts and Craft Movement while recalling the humble craftsmanship applied to each nail? Or will the forceful puncturing of trees that create cross ventilation give them a LEED certificate?
It is easy to see that the transcendence that one feels when looking at an abandoned shed is a commonality in our own life and death as well as a nostalgia to a previous time. But I believe the mysticism that exists among these sheds allow an insight into a greater cultural awareness and that their forms, patterns, and relationship with nature provide precedents to how buildings could be designed.
John Redington, 2015