Wednesday, January 14, 2009


These diagrams are stonemasons' marks. They were etched into limestone building blocks 900 years ago at Poblet Monastery in Spain. The diagrams indicate which family of masons sculpted which blocks. They are signatures of their craft and ensured the masons would receive payment. 

When I discovered these markings in the church at the ancient monastery, I sensed the currents of building knowledge and skill that had flowed through the centuries. These builders received wisdom and practical know-how from those who came before them. In turn, they passed that knowledge and skill to those who came after them. Along the way ancient methods were refined. New technologies were incorporated. 

These stonemasons weren't saints and they weren't simple-minded slaves. They were highly skilled artists who understood their role in the grand design of human dwelling. The walls, roofs, windows and other elements of your home and neighborhood stand on the knowledge they handed down. The wooden trim on the Victorian houses in San Francisco is shaped by the memory of stone construction.
So is the ogee edge on a wooden cabinet or table.

In each age, builders have created structures that embody the mystery of dwelling on this planet. They built architecture that reflected the culture and technology of their times. In pillars and doorways, roof beams and spires, they encoded ways to build wisely. They left clues to living sustainably in our time. When people look back at this age 900 years from now, will they find structures that carried on the ancient stream of insight and integrated creativity? Or, will they see a time when humanity lost its hard-won wisdom and built ego-centered fantasies? It's up to us.


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