Architecture made me believe in Magic

Yasra Daud Khoker offers a unique perspective on the effects of Architectural styles.

Though I never had any luck with the tooth fairy (ever), I still believe fairies exist. Each time J.K.Rowling penned a Harry Potter book, I was in line at the stores, waiting to unlock the secrets of the world of wizardry. When I see domed structures, I am reminded of the kingdom of Agrabah, where Disney’s Aladdin is set. Old, dilapidated buildings look enchanting, as the secret doorways to adventure, probably Neverland, who knows!

As a child, I remember watching Walt Disney cartoons and my imagination went as far as fairy tales took me. Magnificent palaces with milky white walls, gleaming in the sun and a braid of pansies falling over their numerous towers were a part of almost every ‘Once Upon a Time…’ story, from Snow White to Shrek. Grandeur translated into scale and the idea of monumentality begins to develop in a child’s mind- ‘The bigger, the better’. More than the story itself, the magical setting of the backdrop mesmerized me and I spent an endless number of hours wondering what ‘else’ was behind those sturdy palace walls, separated from the rest of the landscape by folding bridges and lush greenery. 

Not just movies, but books too, offered a key to a surreal world populated by pixies, fairies, toadstool houses and magic buses. Children’s writer Enid Blyton, whose books have sold over 600 million copies, wrote stories which were richly illustrated through descriptions of how houses were located in ‘Faraway Land’, and almost every story was built around an architectural fabric. For instance, in ‘The Day the Princess Came, she writes:

Their gardens were lovely, full of hollyhocks and cornflowers and marigolds and sweetpeas, and there wasn’t a weed to be seen. Dame Twinkle got Bron to whitewash her cottage and Mother Quickfeet got Pippitty to paint her shutters a pretty blue.

And dear me, what a lot of work went on inside! Each cottage had just two rooms, a bedroom and a parlour. Up went new curtains, each carpet was beaten till it could have cried, and the floors were polished till they were like mirrors. New cushion-covers were made, flowers were set in every corner, the windows were cleaned over and over again, and the smell of freshly-baked pies came out of the open doors of the cottages, and made everyone wish they could go and taste them 

Number Seventeen, Cherry Tree Lane, where P.L.Travers (Pamela Lyndon Travers) unfolds the magical world of English nanny Mary Poppins was introduced in the children’s classic in a way that made it all the more real.

If you want to find Cherry tree Lane, all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the crossroads. He will push his helmet slightly to one side, scratch his head thoughtfully, and then he will point his huge white-gloved finger and say: “First to your right, second to your left, sharp right again,a nd you’re there. Good morning.”

And sure enough, if you follow his directions exactly, you will be there – right in the middle of Cherry Tree Lane, where the houses run down one side and the Park runs down the other and the cherry-trees go dancing right down the middle. 

If you are looking for Number Seventeen – and it is more than likely that you will be, for this book is all about that particular house – you will very soon find it. 

When Indian writer R.K.Narayan wrote a collection of short stories titled ‘Malgudi Days’, set in a fictional south-Indian town Malgudi, the adventures and observations of ten year old Swaminathan (Swami) come to life with accurately endearing descriptions of the railway station, houses and the school building, reminiscent of British India. Swami’s dislike for classes and natural inclination towards lazing around, exploring the town and deriving happiness from watching the local train go by, translate into beautiful images in the mind of the reader, heavily supported by engineering and architecture. 

What would folk and fairy tales and stories and fables mean to us, is we were to remove little cottages with blue roofs, red doors and yellow windows, the dark Gothic palaces where evil Queens trapped people in dungeons, underwater kingdoms where mermaids sang, the dingy cottage with boiling cauldrons and a toothy evil witch chanting spells, the tall and lonely tower in the middle of nowhere that Rapunzel was trapped in and of course, Agrabah, with its crowded bazaar, with houses overlooking narrow streets and the Sultan’s palace. 

The minute details of architecture brought to life childhood fantasies and taught me that a Modern house of glass and steel is a part of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory and there probably are Oompa-loopmas lurking around there somewhere. That a bungalow with Ionic columns is more than a reference to the Classical Order. We are surrounded by the possibility of magic and miracles in childhood but as we grow, we lose some of it under the unnecessary guise of seriousness and generally ‘growing up’. Allow yourself the wonder of seeing an enchanted garden in your little lawn or if you take Tinkerbell’s advice “All you need is faith, trust and Pixie Dust.”