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Soul, Structure, Struggle

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Soul, Structure, Struggle

“You who know the language of structure and the meaning of form.” —The Fountainhead

Howard Roark says to Austen Heller: “‘A house can have integrity, just like a person’” (PK XI 140). Roark has designed a house for Heller. Roark had carefully studied the site, which was top of a cliff overlooking the sea. The house looked as if it “had been designed not by Roark, but by the cliff on which it stood. It was as if the cliff had grown and completed itself and proclaimed the purpose for which it had been waiting” (PK X 127). The walls of the house are made of the same granite as the cliff. The planes of the structure flow together “up into one consummate harmony” (ibid.).

The Monadnock resort designed by Roark has its small houses set on natural ledges stepping down into the valley. “No artifice altered the unplanned beauty of the graded steps” (HR I 544–45). The houses had been designed for the ledges “in such a way that the houses became inevitable, and one could no longer imagine the hills as beautiful without them—as if the centuries and the series of chances that produced these ledges in the struggle of great blind forces had waited for their final expression, had been only a road to a goal—and the goal were these buildings, part of the hills, shaped by the hills, yet ruling them by giving them meaning” (ibid.) (See also the relation of the Wynand house to it’s natural setting, HR III 568, IX 633.)

The structural use a building makes of its site is part of its physical integrity. The visual harmony of a building in a natural setting is part of its esthetic integrity. The youthful Howard Roark tells the Dean that the shape of buildings should be determined by the site, the building materials, and the purpose of the building (PK I 18). To be beautiful, a building must follow one central idea, one theme, unique to it. That is its esthetic integrity.

Every bit of the house Roark builds for Heller is there to fulfill simultaneously the functional and esthetic needs of the house. Like the soul of Heller, like the soul of Roark, and like any normal, healthy human body, the Heller house “‘is made by its own needs’,” not the need to impress (PK XI 141). The ornamentation of the house is not something extraneous to the function and theme of the house. The ornamentation rides on the method of construction; it is an emphasis of the building’s physical structural principles (ibid.). A building’s ornamentation must not choke the building’s sense, must not destroy its esthetic integrity (PK XIII 171, XV 205).

The ornamentation inside the Stoddard Temple of the Human Spirit, designed by Roark, consists of the graded projections of its gray limestone walls and its vast windows. The temple is “open to the earth around it, to the trees, the river, the sun—and to the skyline of the city in the distance” (ET XI 356). Before that skyline stands one ornament, true to the idea of this temple: one statue of a naked human body.

The “determining motive” of the Heller house is in the house. Many house designs have their “‘determining motive in the audience’” (PK XI 141). They are made by the need to impress others.

Roark’s soul has its determining motive in itself. He loves designing buildings. He loves solving the problem the site and the building’s function present. The client’s desires and the utility and pleasure the building brings to its occupants are treated by Roark as means and specifications, like brick and mortar. Roark’s own work is his primary purpose to which his other purposes are subordinate. (PK XI 140, HR VIII 628). Similarly, a building by Roark has one idea to which all the building’s features contribute.

In Republic Plato developed an analogy between city and soul. In Fountainhead Rand develops an analogy between building and soul. A client of Roark’s, Kent Lansing, says to Roark “‘Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think’” (ET X 333; also GW IX 53). How is this condition of integrity in a person carried analogically into the esthetic integrity of a building? By the building’s integrating principle, its idea—that thought—“‘the one thought, the single thought that created the thing and every part of it’” (HR VIII 628).

The youthful Roark had told the Dean “‘A building is alive like a man’” (PK I 18). Heller wants a house design that seems to live and is integrated (PK X 129).

Roark’s buildings are analogous to a living thing in a number of ways. The building’s features contribute to its one central idea entailing needs. This is analogous to the way the parts of a living body or the parts of a human soul contribute to its living existence. Living things are characterized in Fountainhead as embodying an idea essential to their life form (PK XV 205). Moreover, human beings live in their minds, “‘and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form’” (HR II 558).

The building’s features add up to a “logical whole” (PK XIII 176). The forms composing the apartment complex that Roark designs for Roger Enright have a “mathematical order holding together a free, fantastic growth,” and individually distinct apartment units lead one-to-the-next to the whole (ET IV 249, VIII 305). A living thing is a whole. Then again, the finished apartment house for Enright is described as having walls of pale gray limestone that “looked silver against the sky, with the clean dulled water of metal, but a metal that had become a warm living substance, carved by . . . a purposeful human will. It made the house alive in a strange, personal way of its own” (ET X 327).

Watching Roark walking through the rising structure of the house Roark has designed for him, Gail Wynand observes the common principle of Roark’s body structure come to halt and the building structure. Wynand thinks to himself that structure “is a solved problem of tension, of balance, of security in counterthrusts” (GW V 595). What is solved by nature in the man is solved by man in the building.

Enright House is sited on a broad space on the East River. The first impression one gets of it is “a rising mass of rock crystal” (ET IV 249). On a planar ground, Roark is playing with planes struck into being by man for function with beauty.

Marks of man come not only in straight line and plane figure, for purpose and beauty. The service station Roark designs for Jimmy Gowan is without straight line. Its design is a study in circles, a harmony of bubbles paused as if only until the next instant of wind. One stops for gas, perhaps food or drink at the diner, then resumes travel. Flow of traffic and its brief respite is one suggestion of this design. Then too, these forms sound the flow of fuel and a human gaiety, “the hard bracing gaiety of efficiency” (PK XIII 165).

Ellsworth Toohey (elsewhere, elseworth) is a collector of the souls of others. He suggests sacrilegiously his corrupt form of “wealth” is premised on Jesus’ dictum: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (ET IX 318; Mt. 16:26).

Before there was the New Testament, there was the Republic. Plato has Socrates set out early on that the soul has certain functions such as ruling and deliberating (353d). That which enables a thing to perform its function(s) well is called virtue. The virtue of the soul is justice (353e).

Socrates contends that justice is something good both because of itself and because of what comes from it. An investigation ensues of what is the power of justice in the soul, leaving aside the external rewards that may come from it (358b). “The investigation we’re undertaking is not an easy one but requires keen eyesight. Therefore, . . . we should adopt the method of investigation that we’d use if, lacking keen eyesight, we were told to read small letters from a distance and then noticed that the same letters existed elsewhere in a larger size and on a larger surface” (368d). Justice is found in a single man and in a city (a city-state). Seeing what is justice in the city is to facilitate grasping more of what justice is in the individual soul.

The concept Plato is forging with his city-soul analogy is justice (proper ruling). The concept Rand is forging with her building-soul analogy is integrity. One broad thesis of The Fountainhead is that there is a type of egoistic individualism that is good and just; altruistic collectivism is evil and unjust. The argument focuses not so much on what is just as on what is good. Such are independence, reliance on reason (one’s own), honesty, creative achievement, love of one’s work, and courage (HR II 559–60, XVIII 739–40). A concept of justice will make human life and happiness impossible if the concept ignores the uniqueness of individuals and the unity and self-sufficiency required by the preceding virtues (HR II 559–60, XVIII 740). Integrity is the overarching virtue pronouncing this unity and self-sufficiency (PK XIII 166, HR VIII 625-28, XVIII 742).

Until he met Roark, Gail Wynand believed there were no men of integrity. He was bent on hardening that belief by offering men the external reward of money to give up the work they love or money to proclaim as true what they themselves think false (GW I 441–42, III 472). Gail said to his wife Dominique: “‘Do you know what you’re actually in love with? Integrity. The impossible. The clean, consistent, reasonable, self-faithful, the all-of-one-style, like a work of art. That’s the only field where it can be found—art. But you want it in the flesh. You’re in love with it. Well, you see, I’ve never had any integrity’” (GW IX 532). As they get to know Wynand, Dominique and Roark each conclude he has a great deal of integrity, notwithstanding the corruption in his soul and not withstanding his recoil from the concept of moral integrity (GW IX 532, HR III 576).

Howard Roark is integrity in the flesh. And though each of Roark’s buildings is unique—as each human being is unique (GW V 495)—they all display the concept and virtue of integrity.

It is not only architects and artists who can have integrity embodied in their work (ET X 333). It is not only a creative genius such as Roark who can love their work and find a sense of purpose and fulfillment in it (PK VII 93, HR XVIII 740). Everyone who worked that year of their life on what was the Monadnock construction project felt as if “they were an army and a crusade” (HR I 548). The advance of their great joint work gave them each a sense of having lived through twelve months of spring. Their memory of it had “the feeling which is the meaning of spring, . . . the great sense of beginning, of triumphant progression, of certainty in an achievement that nothing will stop” (ibid.).

Theirs was a brotherhood, sainted and noble (cf. ET X 332; ET XI 351). Theirs “a new earth, their own” (HR I 548). Theirs protection, by a method of thought in the mind of the architect who walked among them (ibid.).

Toohey is accurate when he says to Keating that an architect is a thinker in stone (ET III 243). Roark is a thinker not only in stone, but in words. He wants to design a low-rent housing complex named Cortland. He tells Keating that he will love the work of creating Cortland. Further,

“I want to make it real, living, functioning, built. But every living thing is integrated. Do you know what that means? Whole, pure, complete, unbroken. Do you know what constitutes an integrative principle? A thought. The one thought, the single thought that created the thing and every part of it.” (HR VIII 628)

Set aside consideration of monetary compensation and the motives of fame, charity, or altruism (HR VIII 626). Roark’s eye is not on those, but on his idea for solving the project problem, on the housing itself. That is the allure. That is his motive. Earlier in the novel, we are shown Keating pursuing and winning wealth, fame, respect, praise, and admiration (PK XV 200). But he lacks integrity. He has no such independent core structure. He wins external rewards by a fraud in which he takes credit for a building whose plan was created by Roark. The lack of esthetic integrity in Peter’s buildings is a display of his lack of personal integrity (ET III 237–38).

Keating reaches a time of having gotten everything he had wanted: fame, wealth, and superiority in his profession in the eyes of the public. He enjoys the power he holds in his architectural firm. “He was a great man—by the grace of those who depended on him” (ET III 237). He is not happy (cf. Republic 579c–e). His soul has little of the independence required for being real, having its own genuine thoughts, desires, and feelings (GW II 454–55). He did not have to develop into that condition. In the situations of his soul—in his external circumstances, together with his private sensitivities to nature and to a certain woman—alternative opportunities were available for existential achievement and for soul-making (PK IV 51–58, VI 82–85, XII 157–63, ET XI 341–43, XIV 389–91, GW III 468–72, HR VII 610–12). “Every man creates his meaning and form and goal” (PK I 18).

Many years ago (1983), I had a professor for the professional ethics course at engineering school who pointed out that things Keating aimed for, such as wealth and fame, are attained by Roark, by the end of the novel; though they were not Roark’s primary aim (see also Schein 2007, 310–11). Roark suffers poverty and infamy in the course of his long struggle, but he retains the treasure of integrity. Rand’s illustration of the continuance of integrity in the absence of external rewards is reminiscent of Plato’s articulation of what in the soul is justice of itself, absent external rewards of wealth and the esteem of others.

It is not only the souls of their architects that buildings display in Rand’s novel. Analogies between soul and building are also drawn for owners and users of buildings. Heller’s integrity, as well as Roark’s, is enshrined in the design of his house. Joel Sutton is planning to build a huge office building. He is one whose love has no heights. He sees no great distinction among people; he loves them all equally (ET VI 269). A building designed by Roark would go beyond being adequate; it would be something great, it would say greatness. Sutton is a populist at heart. He has no greatness in his soul. Roark is not the architect for him (ET VII 287–88; see also PK XIII 167–70).

Rand does not want to say that Heller and Roark or that Wynand and Roark share in their psychological ownership of the accomplished building. She is as persnickety about this as a medieval “nominalist” objecting to the sharing of a universal by the particulars it subsumes. The buildings Rand puts before us by description are, of course, particular concrete forms showing abstract relations that are tied to feelings, making for highly personal, markedly individual experience.

Roark tells Wynand that the house he has created for Wynand has to be the creator’s, “‘but in another sense, Gail, you own that house and everything else I’ve built. You own every structure you’ve stopped before and heard yourself answering’” (HR IV 582).

“In what sense?”

“In the sense of that personal answer. What you feel in the presence of a thing you admire is just one word ‘Yes’. The affirmation, the acceptance, the sign of admittance. And that ‘Yes’ is more than an answer to one thing, it’s a kind of ‘Amen’ to life, to the earth that holds this thing, to the thought that created it, to yourself for being able to see it. But the ability to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is the essence of all ownership. It is your ownership of your own ego. Your soul, if you wish.” (ibid.)

Rand spoke in the novel of Roark’s spirit being life-giving. The Fountainhead gave me life forty-three summers ago.


Plato c. 380 B.C. Republic. G.M.A. Grube, translator, with revisions by C.D.C. Reeve (1992). Hackett.

Rand, A. 1943. The Fountainhead. Bobbs-Merrill.

Schein, D. 2007. Roark’s Integrity. In Essays on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. R. Mayhew, editor. Lexington.

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Everyone who worked that year of their life on what was the Monadnock construction project felt as if “they were an army and a crusade” (HR I 548). The advance of their great joint work gave them each a sense of having lived through twelve months of spring. Their memory of it had “the feeling which is the meaning of spring, . . . the great sense of beginning, of triumphant progression, of certainty in an achievement that nothing will stop” (ibid.).

Theirs was a brotherhood, sainted and noble (cf. ET X 332; ET XI 351). Theirs “a new earth, their own” (HR I 548).

One of Ellsworth Toohey’s destructive satisfactions is to advise young people. He tells one young woman “‘You will never be more than a dilettante of the intellect, unless you submerge yourself in some cause greater than yourself’” (ET VI 272).

Along the roadsides lately, there has appeared a recruitment billboard for the U.S. Marines that reads: “COMITTMENT to something greater than themselves.” That is a Christian call to steeled joint action. The call to the men of the Monadnock construction project is a different call to such dedication—the call to and of selves great as the cause.

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