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A house should have eyes and ears and arms and a heart, and it should talk to you when you're in it. It should say simple things, naturally - like, ''You're home,'' ''Sit down and read here,'' or ''Gather over here.'' But it should also tell a cheerful joke now and then, and be erudite enough to quote the classics.

This is the ambitious notion of Charles Moore, a leading postmodernist architect, and this is the kind of house he has been trying to build for more than 20 years - not sleek modern planes with cold shoulders, but houses that speak to their inhabitants about who they are, where they are, and what their dreams are. He wants buildings to engage people.

With the field of architecture at a dynamic but fumbling stage, groping its way into a new era, Dr. Moore best represents one key thrust among postmodernists: The importance of a building's design lies in what it means to the people who inhabit it, and it should give them a fresh sense of place and tradition made new.

Charles Moore at work is a child at play (''The aspects of play are fascinating, and I still haven't figured out all the rules or the boundaries''), and his playground is the memory, his own memory and the shared memories of history. His work draws liberally from images of Italian hill towns, California bungalows, New England cottages, Colorado mining sheds, and even Disneyland.

He is a ragman among architects, collecting bits of architecture - neon lights from the modern commercial strip, Doric columns from the classical past - and sewing them together for new life.

If he was once a lone voice in the icy, steel-and-glass wilderness of highbrow architecture, now he is caught up in a whirlpool of a movement stirring and unsettling his entire field.

Dr. Moore is a gentle, diffident man who wears the corduroy jacket and madras tie of a New England academic. Once dean of architecture at Yale, and later at the University of California at Berkeley, he is now a professor at UCLA and engaged in three architectural practices - Urban Innovations Group and Moore Ruble Yudell in Los Angeles, and Moore Grover Harper in Essex, Conn.


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