Legs vs. Architects
LEGS VS. ARCHITECTS
I DON'T know how many persons who hate climbing there are in the world; there must be, by and large, a great number. I'm one, I know that. But whenever a building is erected for the use of the public the convenience and fights of such persons are wholly ignored.
I refer, of course, to the debonair habit which architects have of never designing an entrance that is easy to enter. Instead of leaving the entrance on the street level so that a man can walk in, they perch it on a flight of steps, so no one can get in without climbing.
The architect's defense is, it looks better. Looks better to whom? To architects, and possibly to tourists who never go into the building. It doesn't look better to the old or the lame, I can tell you; nor to people who are tired and have enough to do without climbing steps.
I admit there is a dignity and beauty in a long flight of steps. Let them be used, then, around statues and monuments, where we don't have to mount them. But they become a highly unwelcome form of beauty when they add, each day, to the exertions of everyone, and shut out some of the public completely.
Suppose that, in the eye of an architect, it made buildings more beautiful to erect them on poles, as the lake dwellers did, ages back. (It would be only a little more obsolete than putting them on top of high steps.) Would the public meekly submit to this standard and shinny up poles all their lives.
Let us take the situation of a citizen who is not a mountaineering enthusiast. He can command every modern convenience in most of his ways. But if he happens to need a book in the Public Library what does he find? He finds that some architect has built the thing like a Greek temple. It is mounted on a long flight of steps, because the Greeks were all athletes. He tries the nearest university library. It has a flight that's still longer. He says to himself (at least I do), "Very well, then, I'll buy the damn book." He goes to the book-stores. They haven't it. It is out of stock, out of print. The only available copies are those in the libraries, where they are supposed to be ready for everyone's use; and would be, too, but for the architects and their effete barricades.
This very thing happened to me last winter. I needed a book. As I was too lame to get in the Library myself, I asked one of my friends to go. He was a young man whose legs had not yet been worn out and ruined by architects. He reported that the book I wanted, being on the reference shelves, could not be taken out. I could go in there and read it, all I wished, but not take it away with me.
"Yes, but how am I going to get in?" I said. "My legs can't mount that rampart."
He said there was a side entrance. We went there, but there, too, we found steps.
"After you once get inside, there is an elevator," the doorkeeper said.
Isn't that just like an architect! To make everything inside as perfect as possible, and then keep you out!
I afterward thought of going in the back way, at the delivery entrance for trucks. My plan was to go in a packing-case, disguised as the Memoirs of Josephine, and let them haul me upstairs before I revealed I was not. But they turn those cases upside down and every which way—it would be as bad as going over Niagara.
If there must be a test imposed on everyone who enters a library, make it a brain test that will keep out all readers who are weak in the head. No matter how good their legs are, if they haven't enough brains, keep 'em out. But, instead, we impose a leg test, every day of the year, on all comers, which lets in the brainless without any examination at all, and shuts out the most scholarly persons unless they have legs like an antelope's.
It is the same at the Metropolitan Museum, and at most of our clubs. Why, they are even beginning to build steps in front of our great railway stations, in order to make it that much more difficult for people to travel, and to discourage them and turn them back if possible at the start of their journey. And all this is done in the name of art. Why can't art be more practical.
The remedy is simple. No architect who had trouble with his own legs would be so inconsiderate. His trouble is, unfortunately, at the other end. Very well, break his legs. Whenever we citizens engage a new architect to put up a building, let it be stipulated in the contract that the Board of Aldermen shall break his legs first. The only objection I can think of is that his legs would soon get well. In that case, elect some more aldermen and break them again.