why architecture?

Architecture, in its simplest terms, is the result of an environment designed to gratify, enrich, and otherwise enhance life while sheltering it.

From its primal origins as refuge from the forces of nature, shelter evolves into architecture when thought is applied and benefits beyond simple shelter are explored.

Architecture begins when those thought processes include who we are as sentient human beings – alive, here, and on this planet. It derives from and expresses who we are and where we are.

Architecture, if it is to be called that, will above all enhance awareness: it will encourage consciousness, and by doing so, enrich us emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.

Architecture, if it is to be successful, depends on a complex array of factors, not least of which is the architect’s talent and ability to merge his/her values with those of the owner and then to shape those results in a manner that succeeds in its purpose of enriching life.

All buildings at their inception, like people, are fertile with the potential to become whatever that’s in their nature to be. How closely an environment approaches that potential will be the result of many complex decisions, many factors, not the least of which is the seriousness of the pursuit by all involved.

It can be a daunting task, a goal requiring great determination, not to mention enthusiasm, and therefore a goal easily compromised, dropped or avoided. The very thought of building one’s own environment with the goal of it becoming architecture, even in the best of times, can be intimidating. Considering it in a period of economic uncertainty suggests a high level of self confidence.

Is architecture, then, worth it?
Why take it on, especially now, if just having a roof over ones head will do? Is it an excessive and unnecessary indulgence?

These are important questions needing serious attention when deciding whether or not to build. The decision to live with architecture requires an honest look at ones priorities.

At this point financial self honesty is critical. That means in this context to not attempt what can’t be paid for – to not bury oneself in debt, i.e., to be fully conscious when deciding where and how to allocate ones resources.

While we’re all, to some extent, influenced by the state of the economy, some are less affected. Fortunately for the rest of us, not everyone keeps their life on hold waiting for the world to improve. Now, maybe more than ever, is a time for those who can, to assert their right to have their life, to give their life shape in a form that celebrates it, e.g., architecture.

And, since architecture exists along a continuum of possibilities, it’s worth pointing out that architecture is possible with all projects, regardless of size or scope. It’s DNA exists in even the smallest of remodels. A building project modest in scope can receive the same deliberate attention by the designer in fleshing out it’s potential and bringing it to life as one on a larger scale.

Is architecture an unrealistic indulgence?
It is if it exceeds ones ability to acquire it, or deliberately aims for excess. Otherwise the pleasure it offers makes it an important part of life – it adds to one’s pleasure in being alive.

The short answer to whether architecture is worth it is yes – to any of us who are in a position to make such a move and want it; and to anyone else capable of being uplifted by the experience of good architecture. We all benefit indirectly from those with the means and courage to take on projects that expand and nurture life.

Life to be lived needs light. As humans we need moments of inspiration. When economic uncertainty sets in and becomes prolonged, more and more gets put on hold. Stalled, we then run the risk of giving up our dreams. More than ever we then need evidence of greater possibilities. Architecture is that evidence, that light.

This post is derived from one of my earliest, its message worth the update.

 

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Bridging The Gap – redux

I was just reading a post that I wrote two years ago and, being particularly pleased with it, decided to get it out there again. I think it contains an important message that extends beyond the field of architecture. I’ve made a few editorial revisions that should improve its clarity, make it more universal, and for the sake of keeping the emphasis on the written word, I’ve omitted the images that were attached to the original. I know the majority of those who visit my site look at the images and pass over the written content – I understand. Time is precious; there’s just too much out there to take in – attempting to can consume a day. But for the few of you who are up to it and have the time, I hope you find it worth your effort…..

Bridging The Gap

Before jumping in and making myself intelligible, I first need to offer you a quick look at something about me as an architect.

Like you, certain things catch my eye.

Visit my Pinterest site, and you will get a hint of what interests me architecturally. This collection is broad, not easily pigeon-holed, and yet, scanning all these images, you may notice certain common characteristics throughout. This growing collection of diverse architectural possibilities reveals something I probably share with most architects – a drive to discover new ways of experiencing the world we build.

As an architect I’m drawn to built environments as a kind of poetry. 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.

So here’s the rub and my reason for writing this: I’m aware that what penetrates my core as an architect is, in all probability, off the radar of most. Not necessarily because of the absence of shared values, but more likely from the absence of a shared language. And, by “most other people”, I’m of course including those who hire architects.

By inclination, choice, and training I naturally view the world, including the world of built things, i.e., architecture, through my personal lens, my own inner filters. We all do, of course. But, how then, given this barrier, do two people ever join hands; how are agreements ever reached; how does complex art such as architecture involving decisions by more than one person ever see the light of day?

Big questions. I narrowed my search for answers to one particular area: the problem of bridging the gap between what I hold dear, in this case as an architect, and the priorities and deeply held values of others – potential and/or actual clients in particular. The problem is highlighted for me because, like most architects, I see possibilities sometimes beyond the range of vision of clients – i.e., I lean toward being an idealist. On the other hand, I also have a deep respect for reality and, therefore, a desire to surmount obstacles and make things work. With architecture, as in most endeavors, convergence is important.

In tackling this problem I’ve identified a particular and influential, if deceivingly obvious, factor affecting the way decisions are made: our personal priorities – what we hold as important, regardless of whether they are in focus – guide us. They in turn are influenced, at least in part – if not entirely formed, by our ability and willingness to explore unfamiliar options, especially in the presence of that which has more magnetic appeal: the familiar, which is far safer and easier to accept. Ultimately, to get to my main point, that ability and willingness is at the mercy of our attitude toward the more risky unfamiliar. The familiar almost always has a more forceful presence.

In the visual, experiential world of architecture, that attitude has the potential to expand our perception and therefore our experience of the world we create for ourselves. And yet it is my personal observation that for many of us, more often than not, it leads unwittingly to a restriction of it. The unfamiliar too often triggers a strong bias against it and consequently blocks the doors opening up to new possibilities. Discovery of something better far too often gets sabotaged.

If a language is used that is foreign or misunderstood, it can sound like noise, maybe get tuned out. Worse yet, it may cause anger and rejection. Instead of sending a possibly valuable message, it fails to register.

For better or worse, what we create and what we ultimately end up with – our built surroundings, for instance, and its affect on us – is affected by our attitude toward the unfamiliar and that which is foreign to our eyes and ears.

Our ambitions toward improving the quality of the places we build is limited by that attitude. Toss into that pot the futility one might feel regarding the prospects of improving what has already been built by others. The results: more of the same; a status quo with its prevalence and its inertia continuing unabated. That sense of futility then becomes yet another filter limiting curiosity about options, about what might be. Feeling futile encourages us to tune out more and more. Uninspired buildings get accepted as “just the way things are”; its alternative remains buried alive.

In that scenario apathy rules and the loop remains closed. With that as a backdrop, the architect – the white knight – ever idealistic with regard to the built environment, ever driven to improve on the status quo, steps in. Regardless of our individual talents, if we haven’t yet 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 of that 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 expand and elevate our experience of the built environment, of life itself, are often often dismissed as eccentric, over-the-top, irrelevant, out of touch, unrealistic, dangerous, from another planet, etc.. In other words, they seem foreign.

As a consequence, visionaries, including those 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, have a tougher time surviving. Many go unrecognized. While some may actually acquire a small following in their lifetime, their message rarely extends very far beyond that circle, falling largely on deaf ears within the public at large, ears accustomed to tuning out the unfamiliar.

These trailblazers, using a language few understand, carve new trails that will more than likely go untravelled, unexplored by most of us. Too often they resign themselves to the fringes, caught in a trap of helplessness over the prospects of ever being able to bridge the gap.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Hopelessness is not part of our gene pool as humans. If we have something we think is important to say, then we need to learn how to be heard and understood. Of course this can be, and often is, a daunting, uphill task.

Regardless, unless helplessness is ones preferred state, we need to acknowledge how we’re perceived when we speak, when we design, when we’re prying open new doors, when we carve new trails. Pushing the envelope in the real world is far more likely to succeed when the party paying for it is on your side, which means they get what you are trying to do. But that, in turn, rests on a will to be understood, a refusal to let helplessness rule.

Having said that, 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. In the realm of architecture, built environments that enrich our lives are possible only with clients who want it, who share the vision, who are open to the unfamiliar. Meanwhile, the alternative – more of the same – remains unappealing.

A final comment is needed here to address a certain possible misunderstanding. Obviously, that which is unfamiliar does in fact, far too often, turn out to be atrociously awful when experienced in its final form. Furthermore, as living entities possessing the ability to know the world and therefore to take care of ourselves, we’re ultimately responsible for trying to discern the real difference between good and bad and to reject the latter when recognized.

My emphasis, however, is on our attitude toward the unfamiliar and on whether we make the effort to further understand it before rejecting it. It’s a choice that’s open to all. Choosing something far better for ourselves sometimes requires that we risk stepping outside the comfort zone of the familiar.

See also my companion piece, Cross-fertilization.

somewhere in L.A.

Architecture – mine in this case, has been in need of attention. Let me explain.

In the course of ones life priorities sometimes fade, sometimes a certain kind of laziness sets in; skills may slip.  As an effort to stay ahead of that curve and as an exercise to ward off architectural flabbiness, I decided to try something I would normally shy away from: design a spec house. It would be on a small hillside lot in a medium to low income area of L.A.. It would, of course, have to be sold at a profit. Now, designing a spec house may fall far below your radar of important things in life. And because spec house design is mostly driven by a bottom line that rarely leaves room for a breath of architectural life, it mostly remains below mine as well. I normally don’t aim my sights in that direction.  Add to that, there may be only a distant chance of it ever being built. But no matter.  As I said, I did it for the exercise – and the challenge. I know and accept that there’s a limited audience for what I do and that a house designed as I’ve done here may have even smaller appeal. But because I’m reasonably happy with it, I’m posting it nevertheless. Enjoy if you can. If not, c’est la vie.

street view

street view

view from below

view from below

Home Base…Part 8 – Coda

Century plants – Agave americana , native of Mexico, thrive here in southern California. They can be dangerous close up in a hands-off kind of way, but  apologize with a one time only final blast of exuberance at the end.

century plants

century plants

century plants

century plants

century plants

century plants

century plants
century plants
century plants

century plants

century plants

century plants

century plants

century plants

Pursuit of Happiness

By the time we reach a certain age, I think most of us know, or at least sense, that the pursuit of happiness – our basic birthright, is just that, a pursuit.

To the extent we take on life we come to realize that the pursuit follows a path sometimes long and twisting, sometimes steep beyond exhaustion, the results never guaranteed.  (Our right to pursue doesn’t extend to getting what we’re after.)  In spite of that, we still continue in its pursuit as long as we are conscious.

We find that scattered along this lifelong journey are places to pause, breathe in the mountain air, take in the view, let our imagination roam, recharge, and, ultimately, be inspired to search further.  These pauses are in themselves actual moments of happiness, the object of our pursuit.

The places are familiar and varied.  For instance: connecting with soul mates; personal achievements; grasping certain liberating ideas that open us to greater possibilities; breakthrough discoveries; acquiring or witnessing something that lifts us to higher planes of awareness – art, for instance, of any kind or scale – architecture included.  Maybe it’s the act of creation itself.  Maybe happiness lies in the journey – in its pursuit.  The possibilities are endless and as variable as life itself.

Wherever we find it, the payoff for this determined pursuit, besides pride we take in the effort, and perhaps the pleasure derived from it, is reaching those places along the way where, no matter how fleeting it might be, we experience moments of joy, the very essence of our being alive.  How we get there and the quality of what we find depend to a large extent on the choices made by each of us – a topic for another post.

Dong Honh-Oai

Dong Honh-Oai

Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon

tom roberts - going home

tom roberts – going home

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unknown source

Collonges-la-Rouge, France

Collonges-la-Rouge, France

Jacques Gillet

Jacques Gillet

FLW - Doheney Ranch

FLW – Doheney Ranch

Arthur Erickson

Arthur Erickson

COMOCO arquitectos, Castelo Novo's Castle

COMOCO arquitectos, Castelo Novo’s Castle

PES Architects - Wuxi Grand Theater

PES Architects – Wuxi Grand Theater

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FLW Imperial Hotel

FLW Imperial Hotel

Dream Homes and Wish Lists

__________________________________________________________________________

Pause a moment…

If you’re at home, look around; take it all in. Notice your response.  Are you o.k. with what you see; with what it makes you feel?  Is it what you really want?  (You could do this exercise with any area of your life.)

Howard_Beach

Is this enough?

mcmansion

…or this?

Chances are that for most of you the quick answer, if not an emphatic yes, would be some variation of “maybe”, “sure”, or “I guess so”.  And that may be the extent of it.  You move on to more pressing matters; you forget about it, although not completely.

You may find yourself drifting off, day dreaming; or maybe in your boredom you flip through magazines, online collections of photos, videos, slide shows, etc..  For most of us, desire for something better eventually overcomes our tolerance for the disagreeable.  At some point our attention gets drawn to pleasure.

We all settle into and adapt to our surroundings regardless of how little we may actually be satisfied with the experience of being there – but rarely do we fully accept our dissatisfaction.  In the course of adapting to that which dissatisfies, we risk becoming the victim of ennui.  As boredom descends, escape beckons.  And so we drift, perhaps daydream, drawn by the pleasure provided by wish lists and fantasies of dream objects, of things we would love to have or do, “if only”.

As we all know, such relief is all too fleeting.  And yet there are many for whom it is sufficient.  For them little seems to ever advance beyond those dreams and fantasies.  Action, the kind needed to change the status quo, when the odds feel overwhelming, yields to a sense of futility.  Dreaming becomes the end: “if only” fades into “someday” and from there, far too often, slips into never.

On the other hand, there are those with vision, not to mention, sufficient resources, confidence, desire, and commitment to take dreaming a step beyond, in some cases many steps.

John Lautner, Bob Hope Residence

John Lautner, Bob Hope Residence

“What if” becomes “what can be done?”.  Wish lists become their launch pads.  In one area in particular, the realm of home improvement, those lists and images are indispensable. But, they need to be brought into sharper focus.  Instead of scattering ones efforts all over the map the search gets narrowed down to something more specific.  For instance, my own Pinterest site offers one area of architectural possibilities.  There are many others.

If the decision is made to hire an architect, these images play a significant role.  In my role as that architect I find these personal collections to be portals through which a glimpse can be caught of the client’s personal view of life’s possibilities.  For the client they’re the main points of reference in choosing what kind of home they want, what they want it to look and be like.  As such, those favorite images are like the brush strokes of their self portraits.

Because of this, I find them important as a point of departure in the search for what fits the client best.  Rather than being regarded as possibly arbitrary objects of escape and dead ends, instead they become vitally important tools of discovery and enhancement.  Tools, but not ends in themselves.

Valuable to me as interior glimpses of client preferences and dreams, I also respectfully recognize in my capacity as their architect, that these examples are actually of things done previously by someone else, somewhere else.  Except that now, as future possibilities, they may become over-zealously guarded by the client as treasured possessions. The risk here is that these wish lists may then morph into “I must have this” demands.

If you have ever hired or thought of hiring an architect to design something, you may find yourself protesting the implication of that last sentence.  Why, you think, since it’s your money on the line, shouldn’t you have the right to expect to get what you want, by demanding it, if necessary.  You certainly don’t want to be pressured into accepting something that seems wrong.  You would be right, of course.  And yet, and yet, you might also be limiting yourself, perhaps unnecessarily.

Images such as dream homes, no matter how lovely and compelling they might seem in the moment, how perfectly right they seem, are not, strictly speaking and by their nature, images of your present life and circumstances. They existed, instead, in another context most likely different from the one to which you hope they will eventually apply.

And yes, it is completely understandable that you, the client, wants to feel assured of getting what you want.  Tackling something on the scale of designing a new home or just a part of one can seem like a frightening gamble, the outcome fully known only after completion.

Everyone tolerates that risk differently.  Choosing from something familiar is usually experienced as a far more comfortable, low-risk option than attempting something new.  It’s far easier and certainly a more normal response to ask for that with which you are most comfortable.

But, another risk is to wind up being short-changed. Trying to replicate or to otherwise transfer those wish list images onto something new – in this case a home or part of one yet to be built, and for you whose requirements and circumstances are, as with everyone, unique – interferes with the discovery of a more vital fit.

Trying to paste the past onto your future, trying to shoehorn a solution drawn from different circumstances, fails to fully respect who, in a very fundamental way, you really are.  Your life is and always will be more than those images.

It would be in the best interest of anyone using images as guides to building design, to first try capturing the experience associated with those images instead of its literal content.  It’s in this sense that dream homes and wish lists have their greatest value.

For those of you serious about taking the next step, converting your dreams of an ideal home into reality should above all take you to a place that’s truly yours, not someone else’s.

Some take-aways:

  1. Regardless of your reputation with yourself in such matters, always keep hope alive.  Narcotic or not, day dreaming can be valuable.
  2. If you’re committed and ready to take the next step, take it.
  3. Know what you want, but allow for the  as-yet-unknown. Remember that the images we respond to are directions, not destinations.
  4. If you happen to be risk-tolerant, allow for the unexpected.  Allow for it anyway – it’s less stressful.
  5. Join creative forces with your architect on a journey of discovery. Mutual respect takes you the farthest.
  6. Be respectful of your right to say no when necessary.
  7. Reward yourself by aiming for the best possible.
  8. Your life is uniquely one of a kind and deserves to be respected that way.  The form of respect may, at first, feel uncomfortable.

See also, my post: “A Path Least Traveled – Part 2…The Path – p.1

 

Glen Murcutt, Fredericks House

Glen Murcutt, Marika-Alderton House

Glen Murcutt, Marika-Alderton House

Carney, Logan, Burke - Cabin in Wyoming

Carney, Logan, Burke – Cabin in Wyoming

Glen Murcutt, Simpson-Lee House

Glen Murcutt, Simpson-Lee House

Osburn Clarke - cabin, B.C.

Osburn Clarke – cabin, B.C.

Paul Lukez Architecture, Jennie’s Place

Paul Lukez Architecture, Jennie’s Place

Fergus Scott Architecture,Southern House

Fergus Scott Architecture,
Southern House

sbch architects,  bray's island

sbch architects, bray’s island

FLW, Fallingwater

FLW, Fallingwater

MB Architecture, Arc House
MB Architecture, Arc House
John Lautner

John Lautner

FLW, Martin House

FLW, Martin House

FLW, Lake Tahoe Cabin

FLW, Lake Tahoe Cabin

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Carol Nelson

Carol Nelson

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