Hard to Open Doors

Here we think about and draw some famous (but just imagined) doors. Guess what doors are these:

“There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.”

Alice's tiny doorThese are Lewis Carroll’s doors in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Many doors around but just one will open. Why? I always wondered why the need for so many doors to choose from. You actually don’t choose, since they’re locked but, anyway, it gives you the feeling of having lots of choices. Sounds like in a supermarket, doesn’t it? Just kidding, there’s more to doors in architecture:

Representative old buildings — buildings that speak for a person’s or idea’s prestige, such as palaces, museums, universities – abound with doors and mirrors. Walk on a long hallway spread evenly with doors on each side and ending with (what else?) a door or a flight of stairs leading to other passageways with more doors, and you’ll get the feeling of “bigness”. The space is limited by the walls, but the doors — sometimes mirrors — trigger the sensation of a wider and wider space. Even closed, they still infuse this sensation. As if the prestige, the power, the wisdom are infinite.

And exactly because you get the feeling of immense power without checking what lies behind (what if just garbage lies behind Alice’s doors? Who checked it?), architects began to work out the idea of doors through other means. No function, just the idea. How? Mirror-clad walls that infinitely reflect the other side or realistically painted doors on walls that fool the eye (fooling the eye — trompe l’oeil in French — means a painting technique in which objects appear three-dimensional, as in a photo).

Now, take a look at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles Palace (easy to search on the net).

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doors and mirrors in the palace

This is a long and pretty large hallway that connects two parts of the palace: the king’s apartments and the queen’s apartments. Almost 340 years ago, the king of France (yes, it was a king in those times) Louis XIV (can you read this number? It’s 14!) was very-very-very powerful. He knew it. Others knew it. Yet, it wasn’t enough. Building more and more (remember that buildings are more expensive than jewelries) and using precious materials for decoration (gold, ebony, ivory, but also mirrors were veeeery expensive in those times) would prove the future generations that he was the greatest of all times. Not only of all space. Versailles is just a detour to show you the power of these rectangular pieces of wood: the doors.

Alice’s doors mean curiosity and adventure. The doors promise dozens of beginnings, unbeaten roads, and fresh experiences. However, when she tries opening them, they remain locked. Recall such a situation in which false doors trigger false expectations: don’t go too far, just look at a cereal bar’s ad and identify the beginning (begin a new life with a fit and slim body), unbeaten roads (the energy provided by the bar pushes you toward …. safari), and fresh experiences (your energy and beauty will draw perfect friends toward you, with whom you’ll travel to exotic lands).

“That’s a bad joke!” you’d groan. “What have wooden doors to do with ads?”

“The promise of some (maybe interesting) passageways! We live surrounded by entrances, openings, passages. Some made of solid stuff like wood, glass, and metal; some made of noises (you hear music through a door and peer into the room), flavors (you follow the freshly baked bread’s aroma), or signs (you see some posters on a door and conceive of what can be inside, even if there may be nothing). Take doors seriously!

Alice doesn’t give up, though. (Take her as an example when you give up doing your math homework.) She looks for a key, finds one on a table (a bit too easy compared to your math equations), and tries opening all doors (that might have been as tiring as the multiplication table).

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“However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!

“Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw.”

The search has been rewarded. On the other side of the door there is something thrilling! The same happened to other classic hard-to-open door: other girl strives to open a secret garden, fenced by high brick walls, whose door is hidden and whose key is buried. Can you guess?

“Mary had stepped close to the robin, and suddenly the gust of wind swung aside some loose ivy trails, and more suddenly still she jumped toward it and caught it in her hand. This she did because she had been seen something under it – a round knob which had been covered by the leaves hanging over it. It was the knob of a door.

It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine.”

Right, she’s Mary from “The Secret Garden” by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Her door is a gate hidden by wildly grown vegetation, which opens her a completely new life sooo different from her former languid state.

By now you’re convinced to inquire every single door, be it outer, inner, material, imagined …. what about a piece of furniture’s door? Can you recall a famous wardrobe’s door that connects the world of humans to the world of imagination? Lucy has opened it. I’m sure you guessed it, no need to cite. It’s the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia”. What about the old bookstore’s door in Michael Ende’s “The Neverending Story”? Come up with other doors from your favorite books to sketch and describe.

By now you’ve probably developed an inquisitive eye for every single door, be it indoors, outdoors, material or imagined. Draw one. Visualize what’s on each side. Draw the objects in different colors, or contrast them. A door marks a difference. In architecture, as in everyday life, guessing the difference between spaces makes you smarter, because each difference, even tiny, implies slightly changed rules of behavior within a particular space. That’s why we knock at the doors. That’s why Goldilocks had to rush out of the bears’ house: she neglected the big sign that warns YOUR SPACE ENDS AND MY SPACE BEGINS — BEHAVE ACCORDINGLY. What big sign?

THE DOOR!

 

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