Every day we pass through all kinds of doors. If I focus my attention on how many doors I use in my daily life, it’s mind-boggling. One day I tried to count, but lost track after this sequence: out my front door, into and out of the car door, in the elevator doors to my gym (and out again), in the locker room, out again, back to the car doors.
I figured I would do a little research. I looked for a definition, but words like “moveable barrier” didn’t help. I found a tattered copy of Architectural Graphic Standards, Student Edition. But dimensions and specifications were hardly the answer. Architects and builders speak in materials and physical dimensions —but I wanted poetry, imagery. So, I decided to take a tour of some exceptional examples in nearby Pasadena.
Early architectural influences are with me for a lifetime, and as I’ve noted before, I was lucky to grow up in South Pasadena, where the heritage is strong. It’s easy to find examples of great Craftsman doors—even the garage doors that Greene and Greene designed are superb. I revisited these double garage doors, framed with a massive masonry walls on a clear winter afternoon.
Inspired, I walked over to see another street-side monument to architectural design. La Miniatura, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1923 Millard House, was the first time the architect used hollow, pre-cast concrete blocks. On the north side of this perfectly sited house are the powerful wood doors, amazingly compatible with the Mayan monumentality of the building.
I recalled many other times I had become conscious of the passages we make in daily life, and how artists have addressed the idea. Some of the artists that I know have designed and sculpted the best solutions. I considered the inspired example of Georges Jeanlcos‘ doors to the Cathedral in Lille, France. I remembered my trip to see those doors with his son, Marc.
I once built an entire show around a pair of doors by John Mason. I rescued the massive doors that were made for a house in Laguna Beach. The 1963 commission, for the actor Sterling Holloway, was the entrance to his art collection. For our exhibit, I designed a simple post and lintel framework to hold the powerful portals.
There is a reason for my focus. For the past seven days, since I walked up to the plaza level of the cathedral last Wednesday, I keep seeing the image of the pallbearers surrounding the casket of Robert Graham. A group of men formed a rectangle around the casket. The body was moving through a portal, through a symbolic passage. There was such a profound presence to the sight of the procession entering the very doors that he designed and sculpted.