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A Hellish Cloud and a Very Clear Air
'A Hellish Cloud and a Very Clear Air: Industry, Nature and Weather in Early Eighteenth-Century England’ is a book chapter that will be published in Adam Sharr, ed., Architecture and Culture: Researching Architecture for Cultural Insights (London and New York: Routledge, 2012). This chapter will use the differences between weather and climate to consider time, place and scale. Unlike the weather, which we can see and feel, we cannot directly experience climate because it is an idea aggregated over time. Weather and climate differ in that one is local and momentary while the other is regional and generational. Specific weather events in the eighteenth century and present-day, and a comparison of their contrasting climates, will facilitate a discussion of the relations between architecture, weather and climate change then and now. Climate always changes, whether by human agency or other means. But as an idea and a phenomena, climate change has become the principal means in contemporary society to consider the relations between nature and culture. The chapter will focus initially on the early eighteenth century because the attention then given to subjectivity transformed authorship and drew attention to the conditions that affect perception, notably the weather, which was eulogised as exceptional as the imagination. In 1725 William Kent was commissioned to design the principal rooms of Houghton Hall, the new house of the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, on his ancestral estate in Norfolk. Kent continued to work there in the following decade while he also designed the Triumphal Arch, Obelisk and Temple at Holkham, barely ten miles away and adjacent to a coastline that was then receding and is now liable to flood. As material and metaphor, the weather and climate were recurring themes in Kent’s designs: the means to consider the varied qualities of a people, a place and a person. One internal, the other external, Houghton and Holkham reveal a condition that is widespread: there are always a number of architectural authors at work. Seen in this light, authorship is multiplied and juxtaposed, not dissolved. Multiplied because, rather than a sole author, a number of authors are identified, such as the designer, client, builder and weather. Juxtaposed because—sometimes competing, sometimes affirming—each author may inform or deny the other, as in a feisty dialogue of individual voices and unexpected conclusions. As natural and man-made forces affect each other on a global and a local scale, agents as well as authors are at work. An author is an initiating force while an agent responds, translates and transforms. As an author may also be an agent, the result is a complex interweaving of authorship and agency in which architecture and weather are connected rather than opposed and the creation of architecture is shared and temporal.
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