This is the view from above the house in Agra, looking roughly north along the valley towards Lugano. It’s beautiful summer up here; the storms last night washed out the mist and humidity and left the day feeling scrubbed and crystalline.
Across the center of the scene is the long orange boom of a tower crane, occasionally in use to build a new house a couple of lots over. It’s always visible off the side of the terrace, outlined against the sky while I work, humming at work while I relax. It’s sort of inevitable that it would become a focus for thought.
- Like Random Road Art, it’s a geometrically interesting structure and intriguing to look at. There’s a slender main column crowned by a circle of cables to support the boom, a carriage for lifting loads in the classic “horizontal jib” style. I suspect that a helicopter planted the main pieces up here, there is no way to have gotten the solid pieces up the hairpins otherwise. A blue solar array powers the motors, leaving it largely silent as it operates: I’ll look up to see the carriage busily shuttling pieces of the house around without having heard the work start.
- The projecting struts where the boom meets the column are particularly interesting. Why did the designer choose those exactly lengths, positioned at precisely those angles? In general, elements under tension can be distinguished from those under compression by their thickness: any slender pieces of rigging or scaffolding are being pulled apart rather than pushed together. The whole circle of connecting segments transfers the weight of the boom around towards the ground, but why the bit projecting towards the bottom right? Is it for added tension, safety, or some sort of stand-off?
- The more detailed physics of the whole thing are pretty straightforward: I spent an hour plowing through statics presentations, where tower cranes are a standard example of forces at equilibrium through gravity and trigonometry.
- There are a surprising number of manufacturers of these cranes, able to lift roughly 10 tons each. Their parts cleverly fold together like origami puzzles for transport; expanded, they are radio-controlled, aerodynamic wonders. Chalk up another hour reading spec sheets and pricing.
- The construction site, in Collina d’Oro, is a sparsely settled and affluent bedroom community of Lugano, sprinkled with vacation homes and residences. I can’t find a real-estate site that gives the cost of the lot or adjacent houses, but the construction is going up in the vacant field along the via Quandrella, center of each picture.
When I first started learning watercolor painting, my teacher told me that each brushstroke was final: it could not be taken away or corrected. I quickly concluded that a rule like that would either make a new man of me or destroy me.
The enforced stillness and thoughtfulness during this convalescence will have a similar challenge, I think: lots of opportunity and peril in extended self-conversations.