Open Gates

A recent visit to the lovely land of Ojai, California, led me to examine the differences between open gates and closed gates. Mostly, open gates are more correctly referred to as gateways, a framing of the way, you might say. The explicit meaning is of course the same as a closed gate – this is my property, and you are welcome to enter here. It is more akin to an honor system – “I trust you have no ill intentions, and as the rest of my property isn’t that well guarded anyway, let’s all just be on our best behavior, shall we?”

But the implicit meaning remains the same, and this particular gate(way) below is the best example I was able to find. Here, the materials of the gateway are all natural, but their components hold a subtle warning. If you are unable to guess the nature and substance of the warning, I strongly suggest you not enter within!!


Be pure of heart, else enter not..

Now, this is not a front gate proper, as it allows entry to a driveway, but it is the more common point of entry to most homes in Southern California. I mean, who the hell walks anywhere in Southern California? You would either get run over, or die of dehydration before you got a mile from home! Best to take the wheels.





The Gates of Hell, or, Rodin Planning Ahead

We enter this world through the gate of our mother’s womb. But we exit it in a wide variety of ways, some quiet and tender, some painful, some pure violence. This is something our species has been wrestling with since, well since forever – as much of forever as we’ve been a contemplative bunch, at least. We had no real say in where we would arrive, or when, or under what circumstances – it was all, “Whoa, I gotta go through there?” And the same thing is even truer for how we leave. With the exception of suicide, everything else is a crap-shoot.


So we, our species, has wrestled with this awful arrangement via many avenues of inquiry, expression, and pure guess-work. Religions evolved almost solely for this purpose. If only we can blame it all on some big hairy thunderer, then we can seek ways to appease and fool ourselves right up to the last moment. And maybe we can use this conundrum to better control the worse devils of our nature, to stand another phrase on its head. We came up with damnation, or paradise. Do you want what’s behind door number one, number two, or number three? Yes, there is a door number three – more on that anon.


Now, the interesting thing is how once we got to monotheism, we already had gates assigned to the various destinations. Gates of Heaven, Pearly Gates, The Gates of Hell. As might be expected, we (again, the species, though usually credit or blame can be narrowed down considerably,) we came up with appropriate iconography to depict these gates. Gate to Heaven – gold, silver, pearls, of course, fluffy clouds, big fellow with a book, “reservations? For how many this evening, sir, madam?” Well, it’s always one, but apparently there is just one table, and everything is served family style. Quite efficient – I like it!!


As for The Gates of Hell, well, what do you think? Bleak, threatening, they only serve junk food, and nobody asks for your reservation – hell apparently has an open-door policy. Yet one of us, namely, Auguste Rodin, decided to try and really make this nasty little place visible, so he gave us, yes, The Gates of Hell. “The Gates of Hell (French: La Porte de l’Enfer) is a monumental sculptural group work by French artist Auguste Rodin that depicts a scene from “The Inferno”, the first section of Dante Alighieri‘s Divine Comedy. It stands at 6 m high, 4 m wide and 1 m deep (19.69’H × 13.12’W × 3.29’D) and contains 180 figures. The figures range from 15 cm high up to more than one metre. Several of the figures were also cast independently by Rodin. ” (this last from



One must admit, this is substantially more interesting visually than most of the depictions of the “other gate.”

As for that third gate, or doorway, mentioned provocatively above: there are those who do not share in the religious interpretations of life and death, and are wrestling instead with the option of merely returning to the elemental state we apparently began in, stardust, one presumes. For them, Issac Asimov was kind enough to lend us his Star Gate. We must remember to thank him for that, once we catch up to him. He’s gotten a fine head start.


Unfortunately, there is a big line at the boarding gate.

Front Gate Designs – The Why and Whereof

There are nearly as many possibilities for the design of a front gate as there are places for front gates to exist at all. But there are certain limitations – some rather obvious, and some not so – and yes, size does matter! The front gate of a small piece of property opening onto the front walk is going to be quite different than a front gate opening onto the drive of a 100-acre estate. A front gate for a business is going to be substantially different than a front gate opening onto a garden. But these are the obvious – what about the less-obvious design rationale?


Well, we can start with the purpose the owner of the gate starts with. If the primary purpose is security, design decisions, however esthetic, will be security-based first and foremost. Height, unclimbability, types of hinges and locks chosen, maybe even security cameras and alarms. And each of these considerations will impact the esthetic elements, which in turn will alter the ultimate perceptions of the visitor who approaches, and hopefully gains access to what this gate guards. Perhaps an example is in order?


I work in a field where I occasionally have to visit prisons and jails. In Dublin, California, there is a jail called Santa Rita, and the entire entryway is designed in such a manner as to let visitors know, from the moment they drive into the parking lot, that they have no control over anything until they successfully lave the premises. The lot is full of rather extreme speed humps, so closely spaced that you cannot reasonably go faster than five miles per hour, even less if you are driving an older model Cadillac. Then, as you approach the front visitor’s entrance, you have to walk up a very long, wide ramp, with perfectly manicured lawns on either side. The effect is like that experienced by Dorothy and her companions as they finally gain access to the Wizard’s chamber, and walk terrified toward a great and glorious Oz edifice, one which dwarves them to insignificance. This prison wants you to know at bone-deep level that you have no control, so don’t even think about it. The element of intimidation is perfectly in keeping with the purpose of the place, and thus, this is a gate, of sorts, that is doing precisely what it is designed to do.


The precise opposite would be the front gate of a home in a typical New England town, where the walls or fences surrounding the property is more often than not low, and hardly intimidating. One could almost step across such fences. And the gates opening such fences and walls tend to be decorative or simple, but make it clear it’s esthetic is of far greater importance than any notion of security. These are gates and fences that seek to delineate one’s small but loved kingdom, while extending a message of welcome, and well met! These are boundaries more amenable to neighbors standing on either side with a glass of lemonade in hand and the talk of weather and community gossip being the focus. It is evident such walls and fences won’t keep out varmints, and may only be effective at keeping in such critters as the family Corgi. Beyond that, they have scant utility. Esthetics, and a statement to the world about the personalities and desires of the tenants. is all that matters.




There are other factors which determine gate design, as well, such as location. gates in the countryside are almost always further from the house, and are more often situated at the main entrance to the property, and thus are gates for vehicles first and foremost. There would be little need for a pedestrian gate in such a location. Cultural circumstances also determine design – a gate in a relatively crime-free small town will have a very different purpose than a gate in a city where security nearly always trumps esthetics. No surprise to this, of course, but one might argue that the design of a gate in response to security concerns may in fact, when amalgamated with all other factors, actually add to the sense of insecurity and threat, by adding to the over-all visual landscape of threat and fear. One must see design as both response and contribution, never as one thing alone. This is not to argue one must neglect the issue of security, especially in places where it is duly warranted, but rather, to pay even more attention to esthetic, so as to better disguise the security elements, and not by extension contribute to the over-all sense of alienation that often predominates in such places.


In other words, to paraphrase the Cold War ethic: you are welcome, but I intend to verify your trustworthiness, first.


Time’s Change Everything


Yet another factor determining design for gates is time itself – historic forces always impact design – nothing new there – but for gates and fences this is particularly true. Two hundred years ago, America was small town, and rural, and there was a higher degree of trust that one’s neighbor’s weren’t going to make off with the family jewels or livestock. And even where such was a fear, as in the West of cattle and sheep ranching, fences and gates were focused more on the enclosure of livestock than on preventing the rustler from getting access. It was not that difficult to cut a wire fence.
As America became more about the big city and the suburb, fences, walls, and gates became more about the security they provided, and less about the look of the property, and whatever sense of welcome one might wish to extend. This shows best with the metal security gates found in many cities, often as a second door into a house or apartment dwelling. Here, utility found its calling. But esthetics, after a long period of decline, slowly became of interest again in the late part of the Twentieth century. Still, there are limits, especially with prefabricated designs. Whereas with custom designs, there are many more design possibilities.

Beyond the utility of metal security elements, esthetics can still predominate.

The Gate is Open

This project depends on you - and your photos of gates. Great gates, different gates, unusual gates, non-obvious gates. Be sure to include your contact information, permission to use your photo, and a name for proper credit where credit is due! Be a part of the Gate Project.