by: Mark Kirschbaum on August 30th, 2012 | Comments Off
This week’s text presents a commandment that at first glance seems to be a straight ahead safety regulation, a precept not necessitating elaborate theological discourse:
(Devarim 22:8) If you build a new house, you must build a maakeh, a parapet or guard rail for your roof, lest you bring blood upon your house should someone fall off.
The midrashic and medieval commentators discuss some interesting points regarding predestination and punishment , (debating whether the person who fell was meant to fall, but even if he was doomed, don’t let it be your house that is the cause of death…), but today, I really want to think about roofs, what they mean and symbolize.
Bachelard, in his “The Poetics of Space”, contrasts
“the rationality of the roof to the irrationality of the cellar. A roof tells its raison d’etre right away; it gives mankind shelter from the rain and sun he fears…We “understand” the slant of a roof. Even a dreamer dreams rationally; for him, a pointed roof averts rain clouds. Up near the roof all our thoughts are clear.”
In contrast to the dark mystery of the cellar, where even now in the world of electric lights, as in all spooky movies, we go down to the cellar with a candle, the roof is a symbol of intellectual clarity and reason.
After all, if there is one thing even the deconstructivist architects haven’t been able to remove, it is the roof. You can put a post in the middle of the bedroom preventing the entry of the bed, as Eisenman did in his celebrated House VI, but you can’t remove the roof. In fact, two well-known contemporary works over emphasize the role of the roof. Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station (1992-3) in Weil am Rhein has a huge accessory roof that serves no function, while COOP Himmelblau’s roof conversion for a legal practice in Vienna (1983) has an elongated arch which menaces the street underneath, looking like some sort of hostile space organism, in counterpoint to the more sedate older buildings underneath.
In short, the roof remains above, and retains its function of sheltering; if anything, the sheltering aspect of the roof modality might be overblown to make statements about dwelling and interiority:exteriority.
Among the early Hassidic thinkers, however, there is a very plastic approach to issues of space and time. Up can be down, inside can be outside, and the future is readily accessible to the present.