Bridging the Gap

As anyone interested can see from a visit to my Pinterest site, what interests me architecturally is broad and cannot be easily pigeon-holed. And yet, scanning all these images you may notice certain common characteristics throughout.

What this growing collection of diverse architectural possibilities reveals is something I probably share with most architects – a drive to discover new ways of experiencing the world we build.

But, not just that.

I’m looking for a connection, for work that resonates with my core sense of things as they might be, for built environments that attract and awaken me. It’s a search for “yes” moments.

As an architect I’m pulled toward built environments as poetry.

Now, here’s the rub: what may fuel my engines as an architect is probably off the radar of most other people. But, “most other people” also includes potential clients.

By inclination, choice, and training I view the world of built things – architecture – through a lens different, to some extent, than others. (We all do, of course.)

The thing pushing me to write this is the old problem of bridging the gap between what I hold dear as an architect and the priorities of others, potential and/or actual clients in particular. Like most architects, I lean toward being an idealist. But I also have a deep respect for reality and, therefore, a desire to make things work.

Based on personal observation, I think priorities that set the course of action for most of us are strongly influenced by our ability and willingness to explore options. In turn, that ability and willingness is strongly influenced by our attitude regarding things that are unfamiliar.

In the visual, experiential world of architecture, that attitude can expand our perception of the world. But my personal opinion is that for many, more often than not, it leads to a restriction of it. The unfamiliar typically triggers a bias against it and consequently shuts the doors of  new possibilities.  Expanded awareness far too often gets blunted.  

If a language is used that is foreign or misunderstood, it may sound like noise, maybe get tuned out. Worse yet, it may cause anger and rejection. As a possible source of value, it instead gets filtered out.

What we create and what we see – our built surroundings and its affect on us – is largely under the influence of our attitude toward that which is foreign.

Our ambitions toward improving the quality of the places we build is limited by that attitude. Add to that the futility one might feel when considering the prospects of improving what has already been built by others. This in turn helps maintain the status quo, its prevalence, and its inertia.

That sense of futility then becomes yet another filter limiting our curiosity about what might be. Feeling futile encourages us to tune out more and more. Uninspired buildings get accepted as “just the way things are”.  Apathy rules and the loop remains closed.

So, enter the architect, ever idealistic with regard to the built environment, ever driven to improve on the status quo. Regardless of our individual talents, if we haven’t tossed in the towel, we know we could do better. Some even possess the vision to radically lift our experience of what’s possible in life.

And yet sadly, so much dies on the vine. Proposals are made and rejected. Using a language that’s foreign to the client, they get replaced by something more familiar, recognizable, safer. The reasons offered for the rejection are often sound enough, e.g., too hard to build and therefore too expensive. But what remains unstated in far too many cases is that the proposal was not really understood.  And far too often,  personal animosity toward the unfamiliar triggers that rejection.

It’s no wonder that those who have an unusual vision, who might elevate our experience of the built environment to new heights, are often dismissed as eccentric, over-the-top, irrelevant, out of touch, unrealistic, dangerous, from another planet, etc., i.e., foreign. (The 20th century architect, Bruce Goff comes to mind. See below)

Yes, visionaries, architects that are perceived as too eccentric or out of touch, and many others who refuse to compromise away the thing they have most to offer typically have few clients, but like it or not, they’re the trailblazers. And, yet, speaking a language few understand, the new trail goes unrecognized, untravelled.

Architects with something important to say need to learn how to be heard and understood, often a daunting task.  We need to acknowledge how we’re perceived when we speak, when we design.  Pushing the envelope out in the real world of building is far more likely to happen when the party picking up the tab is on your side; who grasps what you are trying to do.

Those offering a new way of seeing need allies with sufficient vision and ambition to join in the effort to surmount the limitations of language. Built environments that enrich our lives are possible only with clients that want it, who share the vision. The effort can only be a win-win proposition. The alternative – more of the same -remains appealing.

Note: For a revised version of this that offers clarification see Bridging the gap – redux.

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