What is your favorite building?


I came across this question in Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families – the idea being that part of being happy in a family is to create a space for joy to grow. Being aware of buildings that have affected you (positively) is supposed to give you clues as to what kind of building you’ll most easily be able to transform into a home.

Chris and I are house-hunting so this seems to me to be a worthwhile exercise!

My short list includes:
my grandparents’ split-level home in suburban Iowa,
the Opera House in Paris,
the castle ruin at Königstein am Taunus,
St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz,
Berlin’s Neue Museum,
and the townhouse that Chris and I shared next to Forest Park in St. Louis.

Clearly, for all of my interest in critical theory, I’m a Romantic at heart. These are places that I’ve felt most loved or that made me feel connected to the past. Nearly all of the more public spaces include some mixing of historic and contemporary elements. I fall easily for buildings that reveal their history with both preservation and adaptation.

Chagall Fenster

photo by Nietnagel

More surprising to me is two of these spaces (the Opera House and St. Stephen’s) feature large works by Marc Chagall. Now that I think about it, Chagall must have been one of the first artists that I ever became aware of — thanks to a good elementary school art teacher! — but even though he’s a contemporary of many of the avant-garde artists that I write about, I’ve never ‘worked on’ Chagall.

But his colors  – it’s impossible for me to stand in the wash of blue beneath those cathedral windows and not feel that I’m about to float up into the sky like one of his curved ghosts. Kant discounted color as being too visceral, and thus too pleasurable, to be truly beautiful, but I say, bring on the vibrating heartstrings!


That’s probably why I also love Rothko. In a totally non-intellectual way, I feel like I can fall into his paintings. Standing in front of one long enough I see the colors start to move in a slow bleed between one and the other. I can never decide if the effect is more calming or exciting.

No wonder that Chris and I painted the wall in our first living room bright red. With any luck in a few months’ time you’ll find me painting our doors yellow, blue, and red, and building little shrines to loved ones to our new refrigerator door. I’m hoping for a spot that we can mark with signs of our own history and our own connections to the world around us — a cumulative effort that Juniper can take part in by drawing on our walls and helping us plant trees in the front yard.

Do you have a favorite place, artist, or architect that has shaped how you have made your own home?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>