“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
When I read this late last night I immediately thought that’s the story of my life! It’s probably what most people, except for Justin Bieber, Donald Trump. etc., think when they come upon this Samuel Beckett quote.
Minutes later I was reading about Alvar Aalto, the great Finnish architect/designer. Invited to help draw up plans for New York’s Lincoln Center, Aalto was subsequently disinvited. A biography about him, His Life, says he took this in his stride and the experience inspired other designs. Asked his opinion about the plans for U.N. headquarters in New York, Aalto was not given the chance to design any of it. The work went to others. “Try Again.”
When he died in 1976, Aalto had created only 3 buildings in the United States–the Finnish pavilion for New York’s 1939 World Fair that no longer exists, Baker House, a dormitory at MIT, and the library at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.
When I first read this I had just returned from Finland and was shocked. Mount Angel is about 50 miles south of my front door! Within a month Ruth & I went to see design perfection. The library’s acoustically perfect auditorium is modeled on the human throat. The main book stacks are downstairs from the spacious reception area and spoke out gracefully like a coy geisha’s parchment fan. A large window in the inviting periodicals room looks down on a lovely Oregon valley. Natural woods and muted colors throughout add warmth as does indirect natural lighting. “People round corners,” Aalto noted so library walls curve. He designed the furniture and used Finish birch for book shelves.
Benedictine monks from Switzerland founded Mount Angel Abbey on a remote Oregon hilltop in 1882 and started a seminary 7 years later. Three degrees, all religious, are currently available. Of the 190 men on campus, 40 are full-time-resident monks.
The Aalto library was designed for a modest fee and completed in 1970. Duke Ellington performed at its opening. The current books focus mainly on theology and the humanities. The library’s 5,000+ Civil War collection is the best in The West. There are also 5,00o rare books, mostly about the Catholic faith and published between the years 1300 to 1900 in a vault.
The Abbey is a peaceful complex of buildings encircling a green space crossed by inviting paths. Impressive trees, like a giant sequoia planted in 1939, tower over traditional abbey buildings. Visitors can stay in the library as long as they want, drop into the Abbey Church, meditate at shrines along the entry road, browse a very curious museum containing taxidermied animals, ethnic dolls, a harpguitar, etc. There’s a gift shop. All perch atop a spectacular hill affording panoramic views of, among other landmarks, Mount Hood.
The monks brought an entire library to Oregon. Few books survived a 1926 fire. Now they have the excellent Alvar Aalto Library. “Try Again.”