The Fountainhead

New York Skyline

“What is it that I like so much about the house you’re building for me, Howard?”

“A house can have integrity, just as a person,” said Roark, “and just as seldom.”

“In what way?”

“Well, look at it.  Every piece of it is there because the house needs it – and for no other reason.  You see it here from the inside.  The rooms in which you live made the shape.  The relation of masses was determined by the space within.  The ornament was determined by the method of construction, an emphasis on the principle that makes it stand.  You can see each stress, each support that meets it.  Your own eyes go through a structural process when you look at the house, you can follow each step, you see it rise, you know what made it and why it stands.  But you’ve seen buildings with columns that support nothing, with purposeless cornices, with pilasters, mouldings, false arches, false windows.  You’ve seen buildings that look as if they contained a single large hall, they have solid columns and single, solid windows six floors high.  But you enter and find six stories inside.  Or buildings that contain a single hall, but with the facade cut up into floor lines, band courses, tiers of windows.  Do you understand the difference?  Your house is made by its own needs.  Those others are made by the need to impress.  The determining motive of your house is in the house.  The determining motive of the other is in the audience.”


This is the way Howard Roark, the main character of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, describes the house he has designed for friend and supporter Austen Heller.  This novel is rare in its accurate illustration of the way many creative types feel about design – whether architecture, art, or amplifiers.  Non-functional ornamentation can provide transient beauty, but lasting beauty comes only from functionality.  Some of the most beautiful designs in the world are beautiful for two simple reasons:

1) The design serves a purpose better than other designs
2) The embodiment of the design is a function of the purpose

The human body is the best example I am aware of.

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