Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lecture Interruptus

Since when is it the audience's job to guide the speaker's lecture?

The question had never occurred to me until I saw it happen today.

The Virginia Center for Architecture was doing their monthly brown bag lunch lecture series, Design Bites, and I was there along with architects and dilettantes alike.

Today's speaker was James Wootton, Executive Director of the Capital Square Preservation Council and his topic was "Thomas Jefferson, American Architect."

A woman sitting in front of me turned and asked what had brought me out, an interest in Jefferson or architecture. Both, I told her.

That was the clue that I missed.

Wootton began with a look at Virginia architecture as it was in the 1600s when the colony was collectively building the kinds of structures they remembered from England.

Buildings like Bacon's Castle with its six angled chimneys to announce the owner's wealth from a distance.

He talked about the very British style of the College of William and Mary and Westover Plantation and was providing all kinds of interesting history about men and their buildings.

It was while he was talking about Jefferson lambasting locals for building with wood given the threat of fire or usage requiring replacement (which TJ saw as the only good thing about it) that the woman in front of me raised her hand.

She kept it there while Wooten finished his thought before calling on her.

"It's 12:30," she announced. "Can you get to Thomas Jefferson's architecture?"

There was a sharp intake of breath on the part of most of the audience at her audacity.

He clicked to the very next slide, which was of TJ and began talking about how he'd taught himself architecture by reading Palladio's "Four Books of Architecture" and using pattern books of the day.

Taking us through the many buildings in which Jefferson had a hand, I got nervous every time he mentioned a follower of TJ or a follower's building.

Was the woman going to chastise him again?

Fortunately it didn't happen and Wootton was able to talk about the design of the State Capitol, UVA and Monticello without further incident.

Ah, now I get the name "Design Bites."

It bites when someone is talking about design and gets rudely interrupted by a clock watcher dictating the lecture structure.

Where is Miss Manners when you need her?

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