Beautiful End of the World

Safe Harbor
Joseph G. Brin © 2012

You may have already had an end of the world experience – and just didn’t know it. I’m not talking about a disaster by any means. Instead, this is about a soaring, heightened sense in nature, attaining a state of grace that is rare, brief and unpredictable. What accounts for this phenomenon? Does design have the power to create something equivalent? If so, what happens when architects and designers attempt to intervene?

Some time ago, I worked as an expedition photographer for an archaeological dig on the fabled island of Ithaca, Greece. We traveled, on a day off, to the village of Kioni. Above us, a pure, cobalt blue sky straight from the paint tube. Before us, rock outcroppings glowing in the afternoon amber of Greek sunlight. A small, quiet harbor and a luncheon feast as invited guests completed the visual spread.

Our wooden table was set under a trellis on a stone pier at water’s edge. The main course might have been goat meat, I don’t recall. Sliced red tomatoes served on that table were sprinkled with oregano gathered from the hills, all layered with glistening olive oil in liquid green and gold. Honestly, I haven’t tasted tomatoes even remotely as fresh and flavorful ever since.

Kioni gave me an end of the world feeling. Again, not a cataclysm. This spit of land thrust into Homer’s “wine dark sea” seemed an apotheosis – the best that the natural world had to offer in panoramic beauty and peaceful repose. Of course, that would be a ridiculously exclusive claim to make since there are countless such places. There are not enough lifetimes for them all. Such natural epiphanies materialize only by your own acute powers of observation and receptivity, even then there’s no guarantee.

An end of the world experience is elusive – a fleeting prism beam of light, color, texture, timing, space, scale, sound and smell captured in the white flash of a butterfly net. You know your prize will wriggle free so it is all the more special in the moment.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just import such exquisite alignments of time, place and composition into your work as a designer? Sorry, but you can’t.

Or can you?

Joseph G. Brin is an architect, fine artist and writer based in Philadelphia.

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