Gradual stiffening, in miniatures

Flower detail in Lily’s garden

Lily’s garden wall of brick and foam represents the idea of gradual stiffening – the second, but probably not the last, time I’ll mention the influence of Christopher Alexander and his pattern language in my work. I like to think that he would be amused to see his patterns applied to these tiny worlds. In any case, it amuses me.

Flower detail in Lily’s garden

Gradual stiffening is a philosophy of building which says, loosely, don’t plan everything down to the last detail and implement it all at once. Instead, continue to make approximations over approximations until you lay down enough layers of approximations to create the finished product. Or, from the language:

“Recognize that you are not assembling a building from components like an erector set, but that you are instead weaving a structure which starts out globally complete, but flimsy; then gradually making it stiffer but till rather flimsy; and only finally making it completely stiff and strong.”

Here’s the solid brick wall, which shows realistic depth and texture in photographs.

I’ve violated the rule, somewhat, by creating some wall fragments from sturdy stuff, but I needed to see how the solid bricks would photograph.

. . . and it’s foamboard companion, which looks fine as a background but suffers in focus.



I’m holding to the rule in principal. In my mind, I see Lily in a high-walled secret garden with a solid wooden door. What I imagine, though, may not suit Lily at all. So I’m mocking up the secret garden with flimsy bits and pieces until I see how she wants to live in it. Only then will I put in the hours necessary to create a sturdy little world for her to live in.


Camellia chilling in Lily’s garden



A garden wall for Lily

No matter who wins the presidential election of 2016, there will be a wall. It will be strong, it will be solid, and no one under the height of 5 inches will be able to scale it.dsc_0026

They will, however, be able to walk around it and enter Lily’s garden. Such is Lily’s garden wall.dsc_0022

Lily’s garden wall is still in the process of being created (and is still unpainted). I’d imagined at first that I’d have it span the back and one side of her space (roughly 36″ long), and make it high enough that it would completely shield the garden from outside view (about 13″ high). But, I wanted to spend some time with just the hint of a wall, first, and then build it out as I saw what was needed. This is what it looks like right now, out in my garage workshop.


I’ll talk a bit more about this method of building next week, when I get back to my general discussion. It’s another one of Christopher Alexander’s architectural patterns, called gradual stiffening. (I wrote about openings to the street earlier). But today I want to talk about how wonderful the little blocks are that I use to build the wall.

They come from a site call Hirst Arts which sells molds for these individual blocks, and for most any other small building block you can imagine. There are molds for tiled floors, molds for building cathedrals, and molds for building dungeons. Here’s a page full of the various projects.

The process takes a little planning – you have to get the plaster, mix it up, and then spend an evening or two casting bricks and drying them. Fortunately, I had a big pile of them that I’d casted a few years ago, thinking I’d build that great hallway from Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast.

So, I only had to find the right sized blocks and glue them together. Having now learned my lesson of not spending too much time on things that aren’t seen, I’m not going to build and actual wall behind the large garden structure. No one is ever really going to see that corner. But I do need a real wall in one corner, and that’s where the blocks come in handy.