What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

NATURE ABHORS A RIGHT ANGLE

Having grown up in places where houses, apartment buildings, shops, and all other buildings are entered straight from the street, I never cease to be mystified by the peculiar design of entrances in suburban areas of the US. The dysfunctional design principles dictated by the use of automobiles to travel everywhere really struck me one day when I observed a local thoroughfare where old buildings had been torn down and the entire area rebuilt to look like an urban street lined with shops, complete with sidewalks, but with no visible entrances to any of the shops. Instead, the street was lined with fake facades disguising what was really a strip-mall with entrances from a big parking lot on the other side. I wrote about this abomination in another post.

The area where we live, just north of Seattle, is an odd mix of rural and suburban. However, a common theme that I’ve noticed is that the entrance to almost every house or building is not the main feature and is reached by traversing a right angle turn to get to the front door. I think this strange design comes from the practice of having a garage as a prominent part of the house, with a big driveway leading to one or more garage doors that take up most of the front fa├žade. I think the original architectural assumption was that people would drive their car into the garage and enter the house from the inside of the garage, with the front door mostly serving as vestigial decoration.

At some point decades ago this plan went awry when people discovered that the highest and best use of the extra space provided by the garage (or garages!) was not housing for vehicles, but better served as a recreational area, workshop, extra bedroom or (in most cases) storage for junk of various sorts. This means that cars are parked in the driveway or along the street, and the occupants of the house must either traverse the awkward right angle walkway to enter the front door or forge a new path across the contractor-installed lawn.

It is the nature of every living being to take the shortest, easiest, distance between two points unless there is some compelling reason to take a detour. That is why, on campus, the more independent-minded students (and faculty) create their own paths to circumvent the designers’ attempts to make them walk awkward, right-angled routes that probably looked beautifully symmetrical on paper. In some cases the “cowpaths” that have evolved are eventually sanctioned with rough paving, and in other cases they remain dirt tracks.


If you look at nature, you hardly ever see a right angle, except where plants and trees grow vertically from flat ground. The right angle is a human invention to facilitate joining materials used in building. It’s natural to take a right-angled path around the corner of a rectangular building, but it’s something else to be expected to walk at right angles when nothing stands in the way of walking in a straight line. It also seems unfriendly to expect guests to walk down a driveway that may be clogged with vehicles and then take a right-angled turn to reach a half-hidden door, as if a door were something scandalous that needs to be concealed. Why not construct a direct path to the door?

[All photos from local real estate sites. It is interesting that these "glamour" photos are always taken in such a way that the garage is emphasized and the front door is completely or partially concealed. Of course, no cars are ever in the driveway, and the street is never shown.] 

6 comments:

  1. From a european point of view american suburbia as a whole tends to make no sense what so ever... like a lot of other american phenomena, truthfully. :P

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    1. LaDonna, You are correct that american suburbia makes no sense. It's like a wasteland.

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  2. I like the older style of the block having an alley down the center, so that the garages were on the alley, behind the house. The non-resident entrance to the house was a (hopefully) nice path from the sidewalk to the front door. I grew up in such a neighborhood, and it seems much nicer to me than the suburban style of having the garage take up the front of the house & lot.

    Of course, having an alley means more areas to snowplow... that's one point against that style!

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    1. Laurie, when I lived on the East Coast we had an alley behind the houses. Instead of clearing the snow, we used to go sledding down the alley!

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  3. Hi Ellen,

    I lived in a 1906 (old for the US) craftsman bungalow, in what used to be a small town, for almost 30 years. The entrance was straight on and straight into a large covered front porch. The separate garage was added to the back of the property in the 1960s. I believe that the late 50s and early 60s were the the beginning of the right angle entry ways.

    Perhaps, as the focus of daily life moved from hanging around on the big front porches with friends to recreational driving and daily commutes, the garage and the car moved up front too, becoming the ugly functional, architectural focus of suburban homes that we see today.

    Also, from observing today's drivers I have to say that I think it is easier for them to make the right angle on foot than it is for them to do so in their vehicles.

    Azar xx

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  4. Gail, you are right that drivers have problems making right-angle turns in either direction, probably because their vehicles are so big that they have to be driven like buses. That's a subject for another post!

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