The Flowery Language of Construction

The Iris Tectorum are exquisite this spring. Lilac and lush, with flat, fan-shaped leaves and intricate petals worthy of orchids, Tectorum are more petite than the great bearded specimens of the Tennessee state flower. The blooms in my yard look like they have been plucked from a minor Van Gogh.

I suspect their current flamboyance comes courtesy of all the rain.

You know what else comes with excessive rain? Roof repairs.

That’s not the nonsequitur it might sound like at first: Iris Tectorum are commonly known as Roof Iris, a detail I remembered this week when I arrived on a job site and spotted a lavish display of their flowers in the shadow of a roof that needed repair.

Etymologically speaking, species Tectorum shares a root with the word architecture, both spinning out of the Latin vocabulary for shelter. Meanwhile, Roof Iris takes its common name from the Asian tradition of growing irises on the roof—a practice born of the need to conserve land for agriculture—or possibly from the fact that the flat, straplike leaves were used to bundle material used in thatching a roof.

It’s hard to imagine a world so beautiful that roofs are clad with flowers.

Then again, maybe I haven’t been looking for beauty in all its forms.

This week I witnessed two roofs being built. One was a delicate armature for a garden pergola, the kind that might wind its way into an 18th century landscape painting. The other was a simple gable, the kind that might muscle its way into a child’s drawing of home, designated by a black triangle.

In the case of the pergola, it took three talented men to envision, draw and ultimately carve the graceful curves from blunt pressure-treated lumber. In the case of the gable, it took three talented men to diagnose the structural issue, devise a solution, then hoist a 600-pound beam into place to stabilize the building.

I shot a single framing nail into the gable beam, but mostly my role was to shoot photographs from the sidelines. As eyewitness, I can attest that the construction of both roofs required dexterity, ingenuity and strength that would be described as “beautiful” were they observed in enterprise more lofty, so to speak, than roof framing.

The juxtaposition of opposites—sun versus shadow, sublime versus beautiful—invariably sheds new light on the extremes in question. This time, the contrast of precious iris and rugged framing reminded me that, all too often, I take for granted the simple ubiquitous structures of the built environment—and that the pursuit of beauty can be as simple as looking up.






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