Ancestors of the rat haus:
The Rat Cabin and Haus #1
aka the "rat victorian"
by dave rat
The rat haus above, source of the namesake of this web haus, was built in 1982 over a 10-month period while living in Bolinas, California. That project was embarked upon because i had "lost" an earlier instance of this haus, built in Eugene Oregon, in the first half of 1976. While the present day rat haus enjoys an extensive photographic history providing the means to chronologically document its construction, its 1976 antecedents do not enjoy such a wealth of "historical footage" to draw upon. This is simply due to the fact that the 1976 dave was not yet the fastidiously meticulous chronicler of 1982 vintage. Despite such a lack of a similiarly bountiful plantation of 1976 images, i am pleased there is some photographic material in "the archives" to share here regarding these two, very dear to my heart, ancestors of the rat haus.
Things began rather humbly. In January, 1976, i elected to build a balsa wood house for my rat at the time. i believe his name was simply "rata". i was in my second year at the University of Oregon (UofO) after taking what wood have been my sophomore year off (becuz i didn't have any idea what i wanted to get a degree in), skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado while washing dishes at the Iron Horse Inn, as well as working as a printing grunt at the city newspaper, the Steamboat Pilot to pay for rent and a season's ski-pass (at-that-time it was $200 -- just now learned it's in excess of 900 clams! -- nice work if you can get it!).
i had enjoyed building models as a kid, including balsa wood biplanes replete with tissue paper "canvas" covering (elaborately affixed with glue and dope and water), and had even built a miniature replica of my Dad's doctor's office building that he shared with 2 or 3 others, in the sixth grade using balsa wood and oaktag. (It was a one-story building that coodn't have been more than 30x60 feet. i was so into the project i bebember going there for the express purpose of taking measurements for the floor plan as i wanted the model to be as accurately built-to-scale as possible.)
At this point, i wanted to build something from scratch -- not from a kit -- and let my imagination be the plans. i knew enuff about how a building was made from doing "real world" construction (including building a redwood deck along the side of our house in the San Mateo Eikler (sp?) Highlands (age 14), and beginning at 18, working with brother Steve on all sorts of structural repair/refitting work on his and wife Ashley's 1889 Victorian home, the Red House, in Bolinas), that i was able to cook up a reasonably "accurate-by-western-civ-building-codes standards" miniature two-and-a-half story house. Shack, or cabin, was a more precise appellation. The intent was to make this be as architecturally accurate, albeit in a miniaturized form, as it wood be if an actual full-sized "humanly habitable" building was constructed. This preoccupation with the accuracy of things was a life-long interest of mine and it wood be instrumental 15 years later during the process of fashioning a name for the photographic-series gift to my precious special friend and lady-love, Renna.
first house: the rat cabin suspended from ceiling
It was great fun to make something functional for rata to move thru / walk around in, while at the same time being aesthetically pleasing to the eye to such a degree that it truly appeared to simply be a miniaturized version of some "Real McCoy" shack. Notice the holes in the roof. i found out after-the-fact that sloppy construction was noted and enjoyed by rata. There was an inordinate amount of elmers left where the roof planks were glued to the rafters. rata found the dried drops to be most enjoyable to chew on . . . . It was at this time i first got into building "ratwalks" out of balsa wood, resembling "cartoon railroad tracks" more than anything else. My bedroom in the house i was sharing was small so an "economy of space" mandate was pursued where every cubic square was given a very high value. The ratwalk feeding into the "front door" at bottom-right led back to where rata's squirrel cage was, while the one ascending from the 3rd floor deck went up thru a hole in a cotton bedspread suspended about 8 inches below the room's ceiling. Also note the most swank regular dodecahedron lamp shade in the background (upper-right corner). This was a present from Bruce made out of 10 wire-framed pentagons wrapped with rice paper, each with what Bruce called a Chinese character painted onto it, tied together at their adjacent vertices with thread, with a light bulb suspended from above hanging in the center of its interior.
first floor porch out the back side of the rat cabin
There was a great deal about this building i was especially fond of and pleased by regarding the way it turned out. (For the first time in decades, while scrutinizing these photogs over the past few daze, i find myself wondering how i might attempt to recreate the rat cabin as accurately as possible, fashioned after the few photogs that is all that now, apparently, remains.) The porch, and the way it served to get from the first floor to the second, was delightful. i cood easily see such a dwelling situated in a temperate year'round climate where a 100% walled-in home was not necessary. The meticulous level of detail applied to the rat haus's back porch was first explored and developed here with the rat cabin. i was also very gratified by the way this porch complemented the extension of space created by the deck off the attic jutting out from a different wall. Both "appendages" rounded out the otherwise plain rectangular shack core shape. Mem'reh says the attic's porch was not "seen" when the floor plans were made. What a joy to simply create something that, as it grows, develops more and more of its own character and form without being "pre-planned" or envisioned at the outset. Ah to re-establish a time-space where time feels plentiful and easy enuff to engage one's focus, energies, and creativity in such a manner as to fashion such a sweet, complete, yet simple wonder as the rat cabin!!!
Inspired by the success of the rat cabin, i felt more ambitious and began to work on its "next generation" descendant, this time the structure in mind's eye being a four-story Victorian-style domicile. The only "plans" i ever drew up was a full-scale version of the first floor floor plan on graph paper. Laying this paper on cardboard, and wax paper over that, i built the first floor joist's structure (replete with blocking) by sticking pins thru the 2x4s as i glued them together on top of the scale-drawing of their positions on the graph paper. Then the foundation posts (for the basement) were put in place, followed by four-"foot" wide lengths of flooring laid down on top of the joists. Next, 2x4 plates were glued down where the walls went, and then the stud walls themselves were constructed.
the rat victorian: 1st floor stud walls complete
The floor layout seen here comprised 3 main rooms plus a "front hall" (far corner): a living room with octagonal gable, dining room with dormer window, and a kitchen. It gave me immense pleasure to create something miniature like this that was as architecturally accurate in all its basic details as i cood manage. i can well understand how the people who made the models for such movies as 2001, Fantastic Voyage, Star Trek, et cetera, had a ball making their miniature replicas. Some years later i experienced a sort of deja vu reading about Perky Pat "and all the units of her miniature world" in Philip K. Dick's classic, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. However my Perky Pat wasn't an inanimate doll "brought alive" thru drug-induced hallucinogenic experiences, but a real-live flesh-and-blood rata teeming with insatiable curiosity driven by a love of things to eat, or at least to knaw upon.
rat victorian: looking thru basement, 1st floor
i hadn't intended to include this image, but when the photo lab goofed and made it without request, it seemed an intuitive message was being delivered of which i wood be foolish to ignore. The beginnings of the stairwell are visible here right down to "bedrock". One can see how tenuous things appear when only portions of the framing for the basement/first floor are in place. This image conveys the extra ordinary pleasure it has always given to build something containing within its own detailed form a composition of shapes and geometries that, taken as a whole, express lines, angles, and contours pleasing to the eye. The greater the built-in complexity, matched by a seeming simplicity imbued within the final form, never ceases to provide an immense feeling of satisfaction and nourishes such ineffably wholistic self expression.
1st floor complete: laying on a sort of "treaded asphalt"
The methods used in the construction of the rat haus reality house were developed during the creation of this precursor. For a given floor, after the joists and blocking were in place, the sequence of steps went as follows: 1. lay down flooring (not as true 4x8 sheets of plywood, but rather 4 "foot" lengths -- this "alternative plywood" (in the form of "lengths" rather than "sheets") was the only part of the wood construction that didn't match its human scale "real world" counterpart), 2. lay out the wall's positions with 2x4 plates, 3. build the stud walls on top of the plates, 4. enclose all interior walls with "plywood lengths", and 5. lay down the joists and blocking for the next floor. The only additional step -- number 6 -- made in 1982, was to lay the lights and wiring among the joists after they were in place and before laying the next floor's "plywood". (Already there are signs beginning to reveal the artistic license being taken: this is not entirely a Victorian style building in that no such self-respecting edifice ever sported floor-to-ceiling high windows such as the dormer to the side of the right-front corner.) Above the basement, the external siding was laid on only after the house as a whole was structurally complete.
Detail: focus on the living room and its gable
i had always loved the intricacies and extensions of 3-dimensionality intrinsic in styles of architecture like those embodied in the Victorian era because this imparted such a rich degree of character and shape to buildings that, these days, are sadly all too drab and boringly monoform in their square-cut edges and surfaces. The gable was a tribute to the influence of Charles Addams, whose cartoons i wood pour over for hours on end as a child looking thru the New Yorker cartoon collections-through-the-decades anthologies we had in our den, as well as his own books including such memorable volumes as Monster Rally, Homebodies, Drawn and Quartered, and Nightcrawlers. Of curious note is the fact that the beautiful octagonally-intersecting "star" beams, visible in the "1st floor stud walls complete" image above, has since been removed prior to this stage of construction. i just noticed this and have no recollection why i took this bracing out. Perhaps when it came time to lay the second floor joists, and i determined some interior beams were called for, the one slicing thru the gable area "took up the slack" i originally must have anticipated with the star beams before i got to the point of laying the next floor's joists.
Detail: focus on front door, porch, & stairwell beginnings
As mentioned above, all the elements that wood be extended and enhanced 6 years later in the rat haus reality house were first realized here in the rat victorian. One can see below how the "porch" shrank a bit from what it started out shaping up to be during the "first floor phase" of construction. i cannot now recall why i shortened this. Looking at it here, i find myself preferring its proportion and the way it "reaches out" further from the front wall than in its final form. i bebember quite clearly the excitement and anticipation of creating a stairwell that wood reach all the way up to the roof from the first floor front hallway and thereby provide much more light to this portion of the house's interior through all its floors than wood otherwise be the case without such a "light shaft".
on location plop down in a verdant "tropical setting"
i had been an English major (inspired by Steve who had been moving from masters to phd in literature) but that spring term, changed to Architecture. More and more i had been mentally casting about revolving around the perennial question of our culture's idea of "education"; that is, now what am i going to do to make money, and that i'll enjoy doing??? Architecture seemed to be a good possibility and UofO had a great School of Architecture & Allied Arts. My enjoyment of working out the details of the rat victorian led me to decide to try architecture as a possible way to "solve" the how do i make money? riddle. Visible here is another bit of artistic adaptation: note the slight, non-90°, angular "bend" running along the rear of the staircase wall. Cain't bebember the actual details, but i recall there was some sort of interest in experimenting with non modulo-45° corners. The first floor adheres to 90° corners behind the head of the stairs and the wall of the kitchen, while the second floor follows the angular pitch visible here in the framed-in "footprint" of the second floor.
jump ahead to "4th" story complete + ethereal rat cabin
And so we finally come to the irksome fact that there is truly no chronologically-connective footage from the ratacombs that bridges the "1st floor complete" sequence all the way up to a fully-fleshed-out four-storied form of mansion. . . . . (long sigh.) Oh well. This is true as well for the rat cabin -- oh how i'd luuuuv to have some "in between" step-shots to see and appreciate more fully myself, just how each of these rat buildings came into their own. It kills me i didn't think to remove the Booth cartoon tacked on to and obscuring the left side of the rat cabin before snapping these images. Yet more evidence of how "Mr. Archives" hadn't yet woken up in 1976 as he wood, fortunately, rise to the occasion, 6 years later. Enough "negative reflect- ing/tions"! Like the rat cabin's airy first floor back porch, evidence of the expectation this house would dwell in an extremely temperate climate is the 2nd floor mahstah bedroom's unenclosed balustrade atop the first floor's dormer window. A superb view is presented here of rata's "elmer's binge" in the rat cabin's rafters! In contrast to the rat haus's unfinished exterior, it's interesting for me to see the walls of the main floors of both these buildings completed and enclosed with their external siding in place. i like the "cleaner surfaces/lines" such finished walls convey, but i also like the "cut-away", unfinished quality present in the rat haus. Someday t'will be fun to "finish the job" . . .
zoom in: rat victorian complemented with rat cabin
House flipped around to front again (wish there were more rear shots!) and now from a more zoomed-in vantage point. As will be seen in a pic' or two further along in the main story, "ratwalks" have been a repeating theme of interest thru the years. The ratwalks built and employed in this room enabled rata to roam about on many levels. Providing such means to "increase the dimensionality" of rata's domain was a constant for me and felt akin to something like 3-D chess boards and their multi-level basis. Visible here and more so in the image above, the walls and ceilings of my room were draped with the sort of "cool Indian print cotton bedspread" that was such a popular component of room decor in the boarding skool i finished high skool at. The ratramp beginning on the rat cabin's 3rd floor deck and rising out of the pic'cha goes up thru a hole in the bedspread co-planar with the ceiling. This gave rata quite a bit of extra-level dimensionularity to cruise thru and amongst! Watching feet squishing and sinking into the suspended bedspread as he wood plod along up in the "sky level" always prompted great laughter and glee from deep within.
ZOOM in: 2nd floor view at gable towards stairwell
Looking across from the gable's 2nd floor window into the area of the stairwell, this room doesn't have a full-on wall-boundary-with-doorway separating it from the stair area which i like. Such open-ended spaciousness is much hipper than conventionally enclosed and cloistered wall-separation between rooms. The fact is the entire second floor is not bounded by any interior partitioning other than the inside edges of the exterior walls. This was the mah'stah bedroom level and where "roominess" was the goal. i can't identify what the hell the gob-of-wire-looking stuff is cluttering up the second floor. (Oh why didn't he think of these photos in their "eternal record" capacity??? ARRGH!) It's very interesting to be revisiting this time period again as i write these reflections, scrutinizing these photogs as the only physical traces remaining of both domiciles and recalling the interval they were built in. For the first time in a number of years, i find myself thinking anew how much fun it wood be to get back into the rat cabin and house -building trades again!
Detail: rat cabin deck "skyshot" view down into stairwell
One of the most gratifying photographic "survivors" for what it portrays: a marvelous sense of the miniaturized accurate form and authentic-looking proportions of a building's interior space stretching down through multiple floors with stairs and landings bounded from "the well" by a continuous banister. Gratifying enuff to be able to construct something of one's own design that turned out in so positively convincing a manner! Add to that the delight that this same miniature space was occupyable and indeed was traversed and explored by one lucky rata who was the sole beneficiary of the labors of this rat haus contractor, and you have all the ingredients for a kind of humanly-anthropomorphised rat heaven-on-earth.
don't look now madame but there's a rata in yer attic!
Here we finally arrive at some images which include my living "scale" in the guise of rata. "Turkey in the Straw" comes to mind as a phrase-ological predecessor to "Rattie in the Attic". As is visible in the ``jump ahead to "4th" story complete'' image above, the hatch providing access to the attic from the 3rd floor is in the section stretching directly back behind the stairwell's skylight, over the area where the first floor kitchen is (see also the best "back side view" shot below). Despite such planned thresholds, in the state of unfinishedness the house has here, rata cood climb up into the attic from any number of places including where he most likely did just before this shot was snapped: the gable. Images of note: there is a large print of Albrecht Dürer's on the wall, mostly obscured, of two large squirrels as well as an one of my Maw in the upper-right corner of which i had forgotten about until i began processing the scanned-in hi-res version of this image (shades of the classic techno-sleuth scene from Bladerunner where Decard "goes into an image" deeper and deeper, bubble up out of inner psychic mists . . . ). She is in a winter coat, holding up some sort of scepter-thing and gesturing in a mood of inspired abandon (a more complete, clear version can be seen below in the "back side view").
3rd floor "penthouse view" over the baronial rat estate
Here we get the clearest representation of rata as well as the most evenly-in-focus shot of the house as a whole -- meticulousness with photographic journaling was not on the priority list during this time in life! (It's possible i wasn't even the one taking these pic'chas . . . i simply can't bebember one way or t'other.) Also, it's clear from this photo that rata was not full-grown / matured in size; probably less than a year old which wood make sense. i had returned from Steamboat the previous August and wood have found rata somewhere in a pet store after that time. My inclination when getting a new rat was always to find a youngster, ideally a baby fully weaned from its Mom, so as to "bring up kidling" from the git-go and initiate him into all the mysteries of Calling All Rats!, the joy of walnuts (not all of 'em knew what to do with such a thing) -- as well as, as far as this one knew, rat cabins and rat hauses.
doin' the 3rd floor peek 'n' pause with ratwalk above
Another angle on rata's 3rd floor manner of peering out over the rat estate. This posture was often times assumed, where movement stopped for a period during which there appeared to be a kind of vacant gazing that seemed to conclude more from the arrival of some new smell or sound than from any kind of visual change in the environs. Perhaps a sort of "period of yogic reflection" akin to Mr. Tillo's yogic stretch. Once more a great deal of the image is out of focus, but even so, we do get to see here the longest single stretch of visible ratwalk connecting the "front door" of the rat cabin with the squirrel cage (neither of which are themselves visible here). Segments of ratwalks were capped at 4 feet as that was the length the balsa wood came in. It seems we see here the end of the length starting at the rat cabin with its adjacent chunk commencing just above it. i am at a complete loss as to how these two pieces were suspended where they join. i'm virtually positive they were not simply "splinted" together but it doesn't seem as if there is any substructure beneath them. Perhaps suspension from above with the same fine filaments holding up the rat cabin.
wide-angle view on the ratwalks & 24-hr clok
Like the basement shot above, this was another 8x10 the photo lab goofed on and made without my requesting it. So, again it seemed, i was supposed to include this regardless of my own intention to pass it by. It does provide another unique angle on the rat cabin (argh! --wood that the Booth cartoon was NOT obscuring the porch!) and on at least the top of the rear of the rat victorian. This image is essentially a "landscape" view of the equivalent-but-center-of-focus-being-lower "portrait" version seen in the jump ahead to "4th" story instance, above. As already noted, rata's enjoyment of the excess elmers in the rat cabin rafters is fully visible here. This image provides the best view of the suspension of the rat cabin as well as the hatch from the 4th floor attic down to the third floor of the rat victorian. mr. time has always enjoyed uncommon clocks--this one was a 24-hour jobbie acquired back in boarding skool daze. Another Albrecht Dürer image (Joseph leading with Mary on the mule?) is visible in the upper-right corner with the light from the bulb in the ceiling reflecting off it thru the gap where the co-planar-to-the-ceiling bedspread stops short of the wall by about 8 inches. We also get the best visual on the ratramp's ascent to the sky "deck", disappearing as it goes thru the hole in the bedspread at the extreme left of the image. If i'm not mistaken, the fellow is none other than my then-housemate George Hutto.
rata's way, take 1: exit prep from 2nd floor window
In spite of all the care taken to create human paths of traversal -- like stairways -- all the ratas who ever crawled around and thru these edifices didn't necessarily give a damn about such niceties or contrivances and, as often as not, wood simply go up or down the floors by means of the window thresholds. A much more efficient and direct-path sort of move than the laboriousness of having to go over to where stairs are! This is obviously one of the advantages of being non-human: one doesn't get caught up in all the falderol of being bound by conventions and conditioning that can punctuate one's own moment-to-moment decision-making process -- as well as the very fabric of consciousness (and unconsciousness) itself -- and limit one's ability to simply be without first stopping to consider if being is "o.k."
"jump ahead" complement for back side view
Here we have the best view of the rear of the house including the clearest delineation of the left (from the front) side with the finished second floor non-90° corner visible/described above in the "on location" first floor complete shot, which is also visible (but more obscure) from the opposite corner in the following "rata's way, take 2" image. Find myself now wondering which way i actually prefer the configuration of the back side of the house: the rat haus is a "mirror" of this one, with the kitchen/further-extended-out side being the right instead of the left as we see here. Each instance has attributes that recommend it, simply in terms of the geometric forms filling space. Imagining what this domicile wood be like on a human-scale, this one makes much more "sense", first floor-wise, since the dining room is between the living room and the kitchen intead of the rat haus where the kitchen is "mr. in-between". (It is definitely past time to get on with creating "chapter two" of the rat haus reality gallery -- in this case, more materials from the ratacombs need to be digitized of 1st 2nd & 3rd -floor-only-complete shots looking-down-from-above that show off the details of each of those level's floor plans.) But, of course, such intellectual prattle mentation is completely useless to families like the raton genus -- for them, every "room" is a kitchen, dining parlor, toilet, bedchamber, waterless shower, and, leveraging off today's amusing-ourselves-to-death mindrot "values", entertainment-center playroom.
rata's way, take 2: exit from gable, 2nd floor
Notice the superb form of the classic "rat-drop" captured here being conducted thru a window "threshold": back legs are hooked around each side-bottom of the window while the tail reaches up into the roof rafters above for stability and support. In the next moment, when confidence is established that the ground is a reasonably safe "fall away", the tail lets go, immediately followed by the hind legs, and the body comes to rest on the surface below. (There were times when the surface was one, two, or more feet down, but once the drop itself began, things always seemed to go as rata expected and the landing itself rarely appeared to ever offer any surprises.)
This concludes the selection of images which intuition tells me is all that remains of the rat cabin and rat victorian. The story of a ratical branch of life [return to the single giant file or the separate files-per-section] continues with more journeys of discovery spanning space-and-time occupied in Eugene, Corvallis and Harper, Oregon, as well as Bolinas, before it takes a 4-year sojurn to the eastern shores of Turtle Island.
After the end of spring term, i had gone back to Bolinas and then off to Saudi Arabia in the middle of the summer for a month. My Dad had gone over to work in a hospital there the previous fall and i was given a free trip over the following summer by the corpse that sent him (an inducement for college-age kids to be in skool). Even before i went, i was thinking i'd like to stop in New York on the return trip (after city-hopping thru Europe which i did: Athens, side-trip down to Santorini in the Aegean, Roma, Paris, and Madrid), go up to visit Ok where he was about to take time off from skool at Yale to play full time in a popular southern New England band, the Helium Brothers, and venture up to Bwoston to check out the possibility of applying to Berklee College of Music. i'd always had a phantasy about playing piano as a profession and felt it was important to play this one out, so to speak, one way or t'other and see if anything wood come of it. It turns out Berklee was glad to accept me once they saw i had a modicum of talent and, more to the point, once they knew i cood pay the tuition, etc.
So i hustled back to the west coast and up to Eugene to decide what subset of my crap i wanted to fly east with and make the necessary provisions to leave the rest in some sort of "safe hands holding tank" situation. i left both of these structures with my former housemate George Hutto (who was studying conducting at UofO). It was four years later before i wood finish my east-coast stint and return west for the last time, and in that intervening period i lost all touch with / track of George. One of the more severe transgressional bumblings i've ever lived out during this life. Of course i have always lamented the loss of these creations and imagined they most likely eventually got broken and then, sooner or later, simply slid into the trash. More than ever now i find myself deeply regretting "losing" both of these buildings after spending the time these past 3 weekendz scanning in, scrutinizing, and writing about their photog "stand-ins". Of course, if i hadn't "misplaced them," i might never have been so motivated as to build the rat haus, but i know it's also possible that having them around might have prompted an even more grandiose "next gen" manifestation -- look at what the rat cabin begat! It's a bitter pill to swallow. How strange and mysterious the flow of energy that we call life contains and encompasses! George, if you ever do read this and actually still have or know where these edifices are, puhLEEZE contact me!
January 18, 1997