Monthly Archives: April 2011

THE WALL

A more appropriate title would be The Wall, Part one, Sub-section 3, point a-i). Since we’ve already had at least one episode with a wall, I’m starting to see the need for a classification system to file away “incidents involving walls – or the lack of them.” Before the most recent wall episode I was still able to agree with the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (part three) – “I need no arms around me/ And I don’t need no drugs to calm me”.

Since then, serenity has fled the scene. Why, you wonder?
The short answer is that we like concrete. The long answer is that concrete has the potential to come with many, oh so many complications. In our questionable wisdom we decided to have two 3-metre high feature walls made of solid concrete. The idea is to have areas in the house that, apart from having artistic value in their own right, lend themselves to the display of art. The motivation for these walls comes partly from our affinity for the innovative use of concrete in modern architecture and partly from a gem of a film released in 2008. If you’ve seen Herb & Dorothy, a documentary about two very ordinary New Yorkers who started collecting art when they were young adults with no money or connections and ended up in retirement with an astounding 2000-piece collection of modern art, you’ll know how inspiring their story is. While I doubt that we’re the visionaries they were and while we’re hardly in a similar mecca of artists here (unless you count the unlikely and accidental sculptures created by rusty pieces of metal in the neighbouring gardens), it is a wish of ours to build a modest collection that brings us – and those who visit our house – great joy.

Clearly the immediate challenge lies in nursing the vision of these concrete walls into existence. We can certainly have dreams and ambitious design ideas, but if the circumstances and skills at our disposal can’t make those ideas reality, we can hardly escape the consequences or complain about them, can we? On the other hand, doesn’t one find the limits by pushing them? After doing our research, we came to the conclusion that our walls were, while not exactly something our builders are required to do in every house they build, feasible.

Feature concrete wall 1 with cladding

The next step was to get the right panels to act as cladding during the pouring process. Our civil construction contractor didn’t possess these and neither could they be rented, so in the interest of our vision we needed to purchase a number of boards made of a sort of composite material to give the finished walls a silky smooth finish. The contraption of boards and supports looked a little like a climbing frame. Just building the frame took a great deal of time and I can only imagine what the five workers on site thought about the process (and us, for that matter).
I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but in the meantime there was an issue with another wall. One had appeared where it shouldn’t have and in the euphoria and madness of preparing and pouring the concrete for the feature walls, no one had noticed. This is perhaps a story for another day, so keep an eye out for The Wall, Part 10, Sub-section 38, point c-iii)…

But back to the feature walls. I’m going to pretend for a minute that I know what I’m talking about and tell you that success depends only partly on the correct cladding – it’s also about the right concrete mix, placing the equipment correctly and then, especially, about vibrating the poured concrete very well to avoid bugholes and honeycombs and a whole host of other problems that’ll put you straight to sleep if I were to tell you about them. Which I’m not going to do. Anyway, as far as we could tell, it all happened with care, if not necessarily love, and three days after the event, the cladding was due to be removed. I felt a little

The concrete wall after the cladding was removed

sick to my stomach before going to the site to see the results. What if all that effort and investment was for nothing? But there was no choice – since wall number two was already in the process of being prepared, we had to know.

Several months ago, when I started this blog, I promised to tell the truth (for the most part), so I guess it’s my obligation to tell you that we weren’t completely thrilled with the end product. Large parts of it are truly beautiful, but sadly it’s not perfect.

Sadly, it's not perfect...

Amongst other things, I believe we’re officially suffering from bugholes, otherwise also known as blowholes, pinholes or simply surface voids (are you asleep yet?).  While we’re being honest, here are a few answers to some pertinent questions:
Did we become quiet when we saw the result? We did.
Can it be fixed? That remains to be seen, but we think we can figure something out.
Can we live with it? We’ll have to.
And now, Pink Floyd? Now do we need those drugs to calm us down? Probably. But for the moment we’ll hold on to sobriety and sanity. Mainly because this really is – like all the other mishaps that are guaranteed to come – just another brick in the proverbial wall. It certainly won’t deter us from growing – and yes, displaying (on our imperfect wall) – our growing art collection. But I warn you, if I have to keep up this honesty about the ever-increasing wall instalments, things may get ugly.

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