A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

August 11, 2020

Sprezzatura and Shibui

A scene that exhibits my intrepretation of Sprezzaturra and  Shibui 

While we wait for contractors to begin work on improving the flood resistance of our basement, my thoughts have been drifting to other subjects including among others layout designs, flood control and layout philosophy.

For a while there was the possibility that we might have to clear out the basement to do flood repair and mitigation related work. Instead of dreading that, I took it as an opportunity to think about what would I do if I had a clean slate.  I discussed this with Marty McGuirk  and he suggested if that was the case, I should have the contractors move the walls and HVAC to make the basement more useable for a model railroad.  

Having thought about that briefly, I couldn't think of any better arrangement that would not involve a major shift of the HVAC, plumbing and electrical components. Moving the toilet and HVAC would be major expenses, as we would have to jack hammer out the rough in pipes that are buried in the concrete.

Anyway, that is now moot as it looks like the Aquia Line will survive.  The old sump, which is located under Brooke, will be replaced and improved without the need to remove that section of the layout. The new sump will be placed in the HVAC closet where we have easy access to water pipes and not interfere with the layout.  Thus, we can add a water powered back-up sump pump in this location without too much difficulty. That will give us a bit of redundancy if the electrical power goes out.

The water powered back-up is looming larger in importance as my plan to add a natural gas powered generator is bumping into resistance from the city's zoning noise ordinances.  They require generators to produce no more than 55dBa at the lot line. Most whole house generators produce about 65 dBa at 20 feet.   Since my house is only 8 feet from the lot line on the east and west sides, it will be hard to meet that standard. We just don't have the space to create a sound buffer. 

I found the city's noise requirement curious because the air conditioner compressors that everyone here has are quite noisy. So I walked around my neighbor hood with my iPhone sound meter and determined that most of the air conditioners in this area violate that standard.  Also, there are other folks in my neighborhood with whole house generators that obviously violate this requirement.  Oh well. 

Back to thinking about the layout. So moving walls and baths is not feasible. What other layout would I like to build if I had to start over? I have been known to change layouts like fashion models change outfits. But, the Aquia Line has been here for 12 years, which is a record for me. Obviously it has been a satisfying project.  It must be satisfying most of my model railroad desires.

One of the features of the railroad that I really like is its simplicity. But it was not simple to build. With very little commercial support, nearly everything had to be scratch built. The layout exemplifies the concept of sprezzatura.  This concept was first coined in 1528 by Baldassare Castiglione to 

"Avoid affectation in every way possible . . . and  to practice in all things a certain Sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it."
This is an elegant way of describing my own layout design philosophy.  A simple track plan with lots of open country running between stations is what I prefer and fits in nicely with the concept of sprezzatura.

Over time sprezzatura has taken on some ambiguous and perhaps negative connotations, especially with regard to insincerity.  To avoid those, perhaps I should describe my style more like Shibui, the Japanese aesthetic of simple, subtle and unobtrusive beauty.  
Shibui objects appear to be simple overall but they include subtle details, such as textures, that balance simplicity with complexity. This balance of simplicity and complexity ensures that one does not tire of a shibui object but constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauty that cause its aesthetic value to grow over the years.

That seems to fit my layout style too, especially in the use of texture.  I have included texture everywhere in the layout from the textured paint on the fascia, to carved rocks, natural gravel,  and the static grass. I often walk into the layout room and rub my hand along the fascia feeling the rough texture.  I have noticed that visitors often feel compelled to touch the static grass and the resin water. It's the texture that is so alluring and it complements the visual appeal.

Model railroaders love clutter and detail. But I believe it can be overdone. I make sure that scenes with lots of clutter on my railroad  are realistic and have empty space around them to help accentuate and enhance. For example,  a tool shed would be filled with tools and clutter, but around it is natural space. One of my layout visitors made the remark, "everywhere you look there is a mini  scene."  But, you have to look for them. I was very happy to hear that comment as it reaffirmed my philosophy. 

Perhaps these ideas help explain why the Aquia Line has survived as long as it has. I am looking forward to getting my basement back in order so I can continue work on the layout and other projects too. 

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