Before he became famous for museum wings and concert halls, the young architect got a private commission to build a home for a rubber baron, in the muddy boomtown where an Amazon tributary meets the Rio Negro. The rubber baron was the second son of an even wealthier man. In his youth, he had thought perhaps he might be a poet, and his taste for severity was matched only by his weakness for gesture and a certain predictable unevenness with money.
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Wild rubber trees maintain distance from one another to protect from communicable diseases, and the baron controlled a large acreage of humid jungle and even more native laborers. They didn’t curse him in any sort of ancient rite, but simply hated him, and along with him the house he was building, despite its marvels.
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For in this house, cleared out of the canopy, the architect tested his ambitions, designing smooth plaster rooms that would hold nothing but light, children’s bedrooms shielded in titanium waves, and glass turrets that rose into the air like quartz crystal spikes. He filled indoor courtyards with artifacts and citrus plants, and other dwarf trees that did not grow here.
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But one day, not long after the house was finished, the market for rubber crashed. The rubber baron boarded a steamboat, not the same one on which he came, carrying trunks of bright textiles to wear around London and memories of the sounds of animals in the morning. The jungle nestled the house and then engulfed it, an implosion of appliances, piles of ceiling, the shine of chrome next to the curve of a leaf, the unintended poetry of being left behind.