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.

 

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

0708e0c60207f4e6d979e1976b4e2ff2

Carol Nelson

Carol Nelson

Thumbnail

Embers

There’s only one way to really know architecture (or anything else, for that matter):  by being there physically, in person, i.e., to experience it first hand, eyes and mind wide open.

Ines Cortesao, Clara house

Ines Cortesao, Clara house

And yet as a reality, architecture remains, for most, beyond reach and regarded, if at all, as irrelevant in the context of daily life, a life guided largely by far more pressing matters. The closest experience, more often than not, is as seen through photography, video, cinematography, exhibits, writing, or  a car window.

What then might be the point of photographing, filming, or writing about it, all of which are second hand representations, views through another’s eyes or, in the case of writing, with language which fails even more to fully capture it?  When seen or read about at a distance far removed from the day-to-day lives of most people, do any of these alternate attempts at communicating architecture really matter?

Besides its possible entertainment value, there is in fact one important benefit offered by someone else’s look at architecture, regardless of the fact that it’s no substitute for experiencing the real thing.

It’s this: certain images, whether in the form of photos, videos, film, drawings, models, or  words, have the ability to penetrate the barrier of prejudices that limit ones private view of what’s possible in life. They penetrate the imagination, igniting inspiration.

The concepts we form over the years about what life holds for us shape our expectations and consequently limit our search for something better.

A photograph or a certain phrase may, like an ember, burn through those barriers, igniting the tinderbox of hope and excitement that even the most stoic of us possess in some quantity.

Lit, the imagination then expands, opening doors to possibilities previously lying dormant. Life moves ahead, becomes more exciting, more alive.

Architecture, one possible expression of being more alive, when presented first as an image, may then begin its journey toward reality and be experienced as it actually is.

WL

Miller Architects, Fishing Cabin

Miller Architects, Fishing Cabin

Bernard Maybeck, Mathewson house

Bernard Maybeck, Mathewson house

Greene and Greene, Thorsen House

Greene and Greene, Thorsen House

Alfred Caldwell,  Lily Pool

Alfred Caldwell, Lily Pool

Alberto Kalach, Casa Romany

Alberto Kalach, Casa Romany

Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Mountain House

Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Mountain House

UID Architects Associates, Pit House

UID Architects Associates, Pit House

John Wardle Architects, Shearers Quarters; Image-Trevor Mein

John Wardle Architects, Shearers Quarters; Image-Trevor Mein

Image-Trevor Mein

Image-Trevor Mein

Paul Cezanne - Road in Provence

Paul Cezanne – Road in Provence

Aspen Cathedral, Vail, Co

Aspens, Vail, Co

Revisiting “Architecture of the Earth and the Living”

José María Sáez + Daniel Moreno Flores/ Algarrobos House, Equador

José María Sáez + Daniel Moreno Flores/ Algarrobos House, Equador

I want to pick up some loose ends from my last post, “An Architecture of the Earth and the Living”. There I delved briefly into the meaning of that phrase, hoping to draw your attention, maybe even plant a seed. (I’m aware that the actual audience at this time is probably small, but that’s ok – a seed in the wind may eventually take root somewhere.)

red flag alert

Here’s where I want to go this time around:  in that last post are the whispers of an issue that’s been tugging at my mind, namely that of unintended implications and interpretations. A small red flag has gone up. Hmm.

Since it’s impossible to accurately capture all of architecture with words, I want to take a closer look at some implications of that last post and see if they might be unnecessarily screening out a wider audience? Is it possible that my only audience is the choir? Am I otherwise being tuned out?

We tend to be receptive only to that which we want to hear, and tune out much of what we don’t. We’re open to affirmation but draw boundaries around our turf to keep unwanted messages at bay.

Instead of possibly introducing others to new ways of seeing and thinking about architecture, have I, in fact, only been validating previously held views. Am I only lending support to minds locked into the safe and familiar, that screen out unwanted  messages?

Hopefully not, but if that is the case, then the following thoughts will be relevant. If not, then my aim is off and I apologize for the waste of your time.

to grow = to live more fully

Since my personal belief is that growth, including growth in ones ability to know the world, is a basic requirement for being fully alive, and since architecture, particularly the kind I’m proposing, is an extension of life, I want to use this post to advance movement in that direction.

In the last post I explained what I meant by “an architecture of the earth and the living” and concluded with the following:

Whether it’s built for a location far from civilization or in a crowded urban environment, “architecture of the earth and the living” originates from a source inherent in its own nature as a built structure and in the life that creates it.

It possesses a vital natural energy emanating from essences residing in the materials with which it’s constructed and the circumstances from which it’s derived, including its purpose – its reason for being.

It’s a place where life awakens, where a deeper resonance with life is felt; a place where being alive is more interesting, more itself.

boxes

While this captures my meaning to my satisfaction, it is also more intentionally poetic rather than literal – it’s not, nor was it intended to be, a precise textbook definition.

José María Sáez + Daniel Moreno Flores/ Algarrobos House, Equador

José María Sáez + Daniel Moreno Flores/ Algarrobos House, Equador

I chose this way of describing it because I think the architecture I’m referring to is more effectively captured poetically – it extends beyond the practical into the realm of the experiential. Some would even say that it’s lofty, that it has a spiritual dimension.

And thus my concern that terms such as, “lofty, spiritual, poetry, art, experience, etc.”, may be trigger words wrapped tightly around a closed box somewhere in the recesses of the mind of those holding them. In other words, I’m concerned that they fail to encourage further thought and perhaps  even block it.

This same concern applies equally to those who prefer their reality to be neatly packaged, more precise, ordered, and sharply defined, and who, far too abruptly, dismiss my description as not being literal enough, as being too fuzzy.

Asleep in the minds of some are these charged symbols acting as guardians of unexamined views and prejudices. As guards they’re primed for defense of that guarded turf just in case those unwanted messages get too close. 

What I’m saying is that each of us has our own personal way of seeing or wanting to see the world. And it’s from that place we then respond.

Our signature viewpoint falls somewhere along a wide band of consciousness. It’s our territory, our personal domain. And we guard it well.

That spectrum stretches from a dreamy, nonverbal, semi-conscious and emotional perspective, at one extreme, to the other where the need for assertive, impartial, non-emotional verbal precision dominates.

As I say, we tend to be territorial about our mental turf. The farther apart ones personal mode of perception is from someone else’s the greater the possibility of provoking hostility or indifference. Where the gulf is wide, communicating across it can be difficult.

either or?

For the sake of mental economy we tend to see certain things in simple terms of oppositions: reason vs feeling; critical vs emotional thinking; the material vs the spiritual; practical vs aesthetic, etc.. These become the labels applied to those closed files.

Architecture, the merging of art and the practical, is born in the turbulence of these oppositions. It straddles the wide divide between them, prevailing in its journey through an obstacle course of differences.

Tensions abound in the design of architecture invested heavily with aesthetic considerations. Turfs are carefully guarded by those involved in its creation with a passion proportionate to where along that spectrum of conscious modus operandi they feel most at home.

For example, on the one hand, buildings that are suitable for safe human habitation, structures capable of withstanding the wild forces of nature require, as you would correctly assume, thought processes that are highly rational.

On the other hand, to build something that’s emotionally gratifying requires many subtle aesthetic considerations based on what feels right, i.e., how a built environment will affect us experientially, how it will expand the emotional quality our lives.

The terrain between the two can be rugged, convergence at some mid-point easily discouraged.

This takes me to the main point of this post.

coexist, join forces

Whether your modus operandi lies at one end of the spectrum or the other, whether your perception of the world is through an emotional filter or through a lens stripped clean of emotional distractions or anywhere in between for that matter, just know that when tempted to assert your mode of seeing the world as superior, that architecture, in fact most things that get built, are a result of  all these different modes of consciousness coexisting and ultimately working together.

As a manifestation of the merging of art with the practical, feeling and rationality, architecture is a testament to our ability as humans to break free from the tyranny of false limits and other potential cages of the mind. To exist, architecture requires implementation of all our faculties. It requires us to consider wider vistas and to stretch the envelope of our perceived limits.

not just one way or the other

A quick look at what’s involved:

At one extreme is the design say of a manufacturing plant. Here, everything must successfully serve the goal of efficient production. But even in the rarified mental atmosphere of highly analytical thought needed to resolve the myriad problems of production, emotional signals are being sent. Choices will always be affected to some extent by a sense of appropriateness guided in part by feeling.

Porche factory

Porche factory

No matter how cut and dry the process, our choices will always be to some extent under the influence of our emotions. Try as we might at times to drive a wedge between thought and feeling, our lives depend on us failing in that effort.

Influencing every decision made of a practical nature is a sense of what’s right and what’s not. I’m referring here to a “gut feeling”. It may be an extremely faint signal from deep within, but it is nevertheless influential. Surrounding all that rigorous critical thinking is a “sense of things”, of what feels right.

Let’s take a look at the other side of the architectural spectrum, designing say a private residence. As a built environment it is strongly guided by what it will look and feel like to its inhabitants. Will it be experienced on all levels as their unique place of refuge in the world, i.e., as their home?

Nevertheless, it also requires that the designer, if it is ever to be built, think through and make decisions having to do with an endless array of practical issues. A significant part of the process of designing a place that affects us emotionally, experientially, is, unavoidably, its companion, linear thinking.

Wendell Burnette, Desert Courtyard House

Wendell Burnette, Desert Courtyard House

Wendell Burnette, Desert Courtyard House

Of course, resolving practical matters can be shifted to others, but regardless, someone in the designing and construction of a house must use their rational faculties.

And even when the practical holds a weak grip on decision-making, even when one is making decisions based on how things will look and feel, a left-brain sorting-out process is still at work. Even then, one must weigh one possibility against the other.

vision

Regardless of the position you hold on art versus the practical in design – or for that matter on many other decisions in life, those decisions will always be influenced by the full spectrum of mind-body activity, the full range of thought and feeling, and perhaps, in addition, by the power of ones vision.

By vision, I’m referring to that inner thought or image of something that, when sufficiently formed promises a strong emotional reward if realized once it is brought intact into the world. That reward may be based on nothing more than seeing your personal idea manifested. Or, at the opposite extreme, maybe you’re certain that its implementation could change the world.

3

Paolo Soleri, Macro Cosanti Residence, 1964

Paolo Soleri, Macro Cosanti Residence, 1964

Vision is interesting in that, although in essence it is really no more than what a person sees or thinks of as a possibility to some degree, weak to powerful, it is also a force to contend with when designing or planning. It possesses the power to corral ones emotional energy in an effort to achieve fruition. And yet, as a powerful force in achieving difficult goals, “vision” like certain concepts, can also unintentionally limit our range of perception.

What I’m saying here is that whether one prides oneself as impartial and rigorous when approaching problem-solving or planning or choosing where to put ones money, or on the other hand, if one feels in touch with the divine when creating a work of art, all these dimensions of mind are at playEach has an impact on the outcome.

loosen up, getting more 

Feeling that your personal mode of facing the world is superior risks shutting out a broader range of of possibilities. In other words, guarding too carefully ones cherished way of viewing the world increases the risk of blinding oneself and consequently blocking the path to getting more from life.

And so, to circle back to the main point I’m making regarding “an architecture of the earth and the living”:  that kind of architecture, while perhaps appealing emotionally, or if not and possibly the opposite and thereby capable of triggering alarms, is in fact a quite complex adventure demanding serious respect for seeing and knowing all that it takes to successfully bring it into the world. As with all architecture, it straddles a wide gulf of different modes of mental activity.

Its existence depends on a willingness to loosen ones grip and allow for the vast differences we all have in our ways of viewing the world. Not, by any means, to sell out or give in to something one finds repugnant, but to open the doors of perception to potential life-serving rewards lying beyond the boundaries of our cherished limits.

WL

architect unknown

architect unknown

Li Xiaodong Atelier, The Water House, Lijiang, China/2009

Li Xiaodong Atelier, The Water House, Lijiang, China/2009

Miller Architects,  Mountain Lodge

Miller Architects, Mountain Lodge

Ruinelli Associati Architetti, Redevelopment of a barn, Soglio, 2009

Ruinelli Associati Architetti, Redevelopment of a barn, Soglio, 2009

Karolina and Wayne Switzer, African Mud Hut

Karolina and Wayne Switzer, African Mud Hut

BAK Arquitectos, Levels house, Mar Azul, Argentina, 2011

BAK Arquitectos, Levels house, Mar Azul, Argentina, 2011

Aiguille du Midi viewing area (part of the Mont Blanc range), Chamonix, France

Aiguille du Midi viewing area (part of the Mont Blanc range), Chamonix, France

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Wendell Burnette, Desert Courtyard House

James Lahey

James Lahey

Catherine Sévérac

Catherine Sévérac

Rob't Motherwell

Rob’t Motherwell

Home Base…part 4

evening light

evening light with clouds

hillside with summer shadows

outcrop on lower part of hill

Spanish Broom, California Pepper tree, Hollyhocks

Hollyhock

Spanish Broom, spartium junceum

California pepper tree

cactus flower’s very brief gift

elm tree in the Fall

pomegranates

Baron – CEO, Advisor and Chief Groundskeeper

“…all buildings are connected to their surroundings, to nature above all – nature out there, as well as our internal nature as humans. It’s a continuous dialogue and also a relationship that can be quite intimateNature, in the sense I mean here, is the earth, the place that all of us, consciously or not, are an extension of, where we can turn to reconnect on a deeper level with what’s most important.”                        from “Tuning In, Tuning Out

photography by Warren Lawson Architect

Home base…part 3

Always there. Always changing. Always a source.

spring – soon the grass will be gone…the wildfire season just around the corner

Aloe flowers

the Pacific Ocean saying hello

sky music

never fails to arouse

most days, just plain nurturing

 

Home Base…part 2

My last post, Tuning In, Tuning Out, was the inspiration for a series of photos of my home base, my foothold on this planet that continually feeds my inspiration. Following is the second of a series.

sunrise

sunrise

sunrise

sunrise

sunrise

sunrise

sunrise

More to follow in my next post.

Tuning Out, Tuning In

There’s a lot going on.

Simple, revealing little, concealing much, I thought I would use this seemingly vapid comment as a kind of trail marker hinting at something more pithy ahead, an observation that I think is worthy of your attention.

First, let me explain what I mean by a lot going on. As we are well aware of from time to time, at any given moment there can be an overload of sensory traffic buzzing around and through us. This in itself is not news. But the thing I want to draw your attention to is how easily it sidetracks us.  That buzz, that sensory overload, easily obscures awareness of what matters to us most.

From the moment when the mind flickers awake in the morning to when it eventually fades out at night, it’s subject to an encyclopedic range of input, often just plain noise, much of it actual sound, often just the hum of brain chatter.

So much so that, when something really important and worthy of close attention sneaks into our field of awareness, it often slips by unnoticed, if not altogether ignored. Or it gets glossed over, downplayed, maybe even dismissed as a distraction. Usually we’re just too busy to bother with it.

Perhaps it’s unavoidable, but nonetheless, this state of affairs has its consequences.

Which brings me to my purpose in writing this. By underscoring what might seem to be an unavoidable and unchangeable part of life today, I’m also underscoring what I think is one of the outcomes: it’s effect on architecture, my second love in life. It’s a reason, I think, why architecture occupies a much too obscure niche in the set of personal priorities of so many people; why so many of our buildings fail to raise our sights, lift us emotionally, add to our inventory of inspired legacies, and in general, succeed only in leaving us indifferent.

But, venting on this issue is not my purpose. What  interests me here is making an effort, as minor as it may be, to do something about it by bringing attention to it; to give it a nudge, light a fire under it. Is this situation really changeable? I don’t know, but why not try?

There’s an abundance of legitimate reasons related to personal circumstance for excluding architecture as part of ones reality, for simply not caring about it. I know that for many, if not most of us, it’s beyond reach and may always be. Nonetheless, there’s no escaping the impact that our immediate surroundings exerts on our quality of life.

This simple but often repeated fact has by now become a cliche. But not to be so easily dismissed is the nugget of truth lying at its core: we are all, fundamentally, experiential, spiritual, and thinking beings, by which I mean that our health requires nurturing in all those areas. Unless we’re comatose, we respond unavoidably on many levels and in potentially profound ways to the messages from beyond our skin received by our senses, all the time.

Yes, of course, few people are in a position financially or otherwise to acquire architecture for themselves. That significant accomplishment is left to a very small segment of the population. And yet, it’s those few who have the greatest power to impact the quality of the built environments of the world, most notably their own.

And so, the question is begged: why do those possessing the ability to improve on the state of the natural world, one of our greatest sources of pleasure and enrichment, often let that opportunity slip away? Why do most of our buildings induce yawns of boredom at best and, at worst, apathetic resignation to what seems impossible to change? Why do so few of those with the ability to get good architecture end up with with less?

I wonder. Is it an opportunity that goes unrecognized? Is it sensory overload that obscures what’s most important?

Everyone sees a building’s potential differently. My views on the untapped possibilities of architecture and its failure, in general, to realize them may not be shared by many. Are there explanations then, other than the ones I’ve suggested above, for why our built environments turn out the way they do?  There are, you can be sure. But while it’s tempting to look for them here, it’s not really where I want to go right now.

Instead, I prefer to aim in a different direction, not at changing a set of circumstances that’s mostly beyond my reach. As many architects have done before, myself included, it’s more appealing to suggest an option, a different way of seeing and thinking about the structures we build and where they come from.

For now with respect to readers who have more to do than slog through a long post, I’ll narrow down that focus to just one possibility. There may be many more, perhaps,but one in particular is dear to me

All buildings are connected to their surroundings, to nature above all – nature out there, as well as our internal nature as humans. It’s a continuous dialogue and relationship that can be quite intimate. 

By nature, in this case the earth, I mean the place that all of us, consciously or not, are an extension of, where we can turn to reconnect on a deeper level with what’s most important.

As such, nature is here, now, real. It has the power to bring us into the present, to settle us down. Unlike the overload of sensory stimulation that is often part of that strata of existence common to most life as it currently is experienced, especially in urban areas, nature has the power to ground us, to return us to ourselves.

Nature as a primary point of reference in the built environment has been addressed in various ways by many  architects, high on my list of which are Wright, of course, Louis Kahn, Carlo Scarpa, Peter Bohlin, James Cutler, John Lautner, Will Bruder, Kengo Kuma and not so well known, Jack Hilmer, to name but a few. I know I’m leaving out dozens more who’ve had much to offer in connecting us to the natural world through their architecture as well as their written words. But this is a good start. Their work represents a wide range of different possibilities, but share a common message.

Following are a few notable examples of how nature, in the sense I refer to above, can influence our built world.

FLW, Reisley House

FLW, Palmer House

FLW, Melvyn Maxwell Smith House

FLW, Rose Pauson Residence, Ship Rock, after fire

FLW, Aisaku Hayashi House, Tokyo – 1917

Frank Lloyd Wright, Millard House wall detail

FLW, Owen Young House, Chandler – 1928

FLW, Doheney Ranch Development – 1923

FLW, Darwin Martin House

Wright:

How many understand that Nature is the essential character of whatever is. It’s something you’ll find by looking not at, but in, always in. It’s always inside the thing, and it makes the outside.”

Building becomes architecture only when the mind of man consciously takes it and tries with all his resources to make it beautiful, to put concordance, sympathy with nature, and all that into it.”

“study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

Louis Kahn, National Assembly, Bangladesh

Louis Kahn, National Assembly, Bangladesh

Louis Kahn, India Institute of Management

Louis Kahn, India Institute of Management

Louis Kahn, Yale Center for British Art

Louis Kahn, Fisher House

Louis Kahn:

“And when you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And there is where Design comes in. And if you think of Brick, for instance, and you say to Brick, “What do you want Brick?” and Brick says to you,

“I like an Arch.”  And if you say to Brick “Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lentil over you. What do you think of that, brick?”

Brick says: “… I like an Arch”

Carlo Scarpa

Carlo Scarpa. Brion-Vega Cemetery

Carlo Scarpa, Brion-Vega Cemetery

Carlo Scarpa:

If the architecture is any good, a person who looks and listens will feel its good effects without noticing. The environment educates in a critical fashion. As for the critic, he discovers the truth of things…”

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Ridge House

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Ridge House

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Port Townsend Residence

Peter Bohlin/ Bohlin Cywinski Jackson:

“We believe in an architecture that springs from the nature of circumstance.

…the nature of place, whether natural or man-made – the tilt and warp of the land, the sun and wind, rain and snow, its attitude, its spirit, the marks of man on a place, a dense urban world or a landscape that reveals its geological past and vestiges of man’s hand.

…the nature of man – our senses, how we move, how we touch, our intellect and our emotions, our dreams, our memories, our past, our institutions,

…the nature of making, of materials – stone, wood, concrete, steel, aluminum, glass, plastic, fabric – each has its particular qualities.

…All materials have a kind of will – we are fascinated by the connection between the nature of materials, the places they quite naturally make and our use of these particular places. from “Arcadian Architecture, 12 Houses”, by Oscar Riera Ojeda

Cutler Anderson Architects, Bodega Residence

Cutler Anderson Architects, Bodega Residence

James Cutler, Medina Residence Guest House

James Cutler, Medina Residence Guest House

James Cutler/ Cutler Anderson

John Lautner, Mauer Residence

John Lautner’s Wolff House

Rawlins Residence, John Lautner with Warren Lawson

John Lautner, Segel Residence with Warren Lawson as project architect

John Lautner:

As far as structure is concerned I think we should continually experiment and discover every new material and method and use it.”

Will Bruder, Pond House

Will Bruder, Pond House

Will Bruder, Byrne-Residence

Will Bruder

Will Bruder:

“…celebrate the materials and how they go together”

“…You’re getting paid to open the possibilities of what architecture is about” And the goal of architecture, he says, “is to build a better world to live in, to build armatures for memory. And memory is what people value more than any physical thing.”  from Residential Architect, October 18, 2011 post

Kengo Kuma, Yusuhara Wooden Bridge

Kengo Kuma, Momofuku Ando Center

Kengo Kuma:

Sushi is a good metaphor for my architecture. The importance in sushi is to choose the best material from the place, in season. ‘If the journey of the ingredients is too long, the taste of the sushi is compromised. That is a problem that can’t be solved by modern technology, and that programme of using local material in season is the secret of good taste, and the secret of my style.” 

Jack Hilmer, Kentfield House

Jack Hilmer, Kentfield House

Wanting More…part 2

On some deeper level doesn’t everyone want more?

More money. More love. More time. More power. More self-esteem. A better place to live. The list is endless.

Wants drive life. They give us purpose. Wanting more is wanting to feel more alive.

Jan Vermeer

And yet, how often do things falling under the heading of “more” get parked in a fantasy wish-list region of the mind where they become a permanent stand-in for the real thing?

How often does fantasy replace reality as the preferred place to channel ones energy?

The decision to try transporting  a fantasy into the messy world of facts, of cause and effect, responsibility, judgment, etc., is a tough one; for some, seemingly impossible. It may be even more so if a secret allegiance is unconsciously pledged to the primacy of fantasy, to a world where certain wants and desires are kept alive solely by the simple but effective strategy of keeping them beyond reach.

Such a pledge would, unfortunately and as a consequence, keep one attached to the safety of a status quo, a place where initiative is unwelcome, where aiming high and long term is discouraged. Worse, it suggests a willingness to remain passive with regard to getting more out of life, a willingness to face life with a shrug.

Wanting, for instance, ones own personal architecture – or, for that matter, anything else of high value that may greatly enhance ones life – is nothing, if not a long reach for many. Aiming high and beyond, while perhaps easy in the beginning, often becomes progressively more difficult to follow through with.

The question is whether it remains enough to let ones wants remain fantasies, to embalm them so to speak, to isolate their seductive song, to make them some kind of holy shrine never to be actualized. Is avoiding frustration and discouragement really the best answer?

There are compelling reasons for holding onto a fantasy. Even when the conditions seem right for actualizing it, hitting such a target is anything but assured.

At first comes peering upward at the sky. At some point eyes need to be trained more horizontally down the road, followed by initiating and then following a plan of action; stumbling, getting back up; all the time keeping that glow from extinguishing. Unlike the untarnished fantasy itself, actualizing it gets messy.

Sometimes sights are set early on in life, long before all the conditions are ripe and the necessary steps taken to achieve the fantasy’s realization. An early start might mean a long journey trying to capture the dream. It most likely will involve many distractions along the way.

Yes, a powerful vision, the driving force of fantasy, is needed if one is to find and then to stay on target; but a vision not as something that disappears during the messiness of ones waking hours, but as a north star, as a guide.

And it doesn’t matter the angle or trajectory of ones aim, whatever the nature of ones fantasies may be, each one presents us with a fundamental option of being conscious of certain basic decisions that must be made: What is it that I really want? What can I do to achieve it? Am I willing I do that?

And, ultimately: Will I then do what’s necessary to make it a reality? Am I willing to take responsibility for my well-being? Or… am I willing to give up?

That trail begins at  the roots of wanting something, where each of us in our own personal way, answers the questions: am I worth it and am I capable of getting it?

Whether my vision is architecture, or simply getting out of bed in the morning, it starts with me taking responsibility for making the next move. My initiative, above all, is necessary.

If we’re alive and in command of our mental faculties, we all need to not just know what it is we want, but to do what it takes to get it; to take a first step, and then another. And maybe, then, after careful consideration the decision is made to change direction. A path rarely follows a straight line.

No matter the path I follow, though, what direction I take, it all starts with a choice I must make and then taking responsibility for that choice.

The alternative is a slow passage into a future of reflecting on what might’ve been and on ones slide into to the night.

Wanting More…part 1

Inês Cortesão, Casa Cortesao

As an architect, I’m driven primarily by certain carefully considered ideals that guide me in tapping a particular project’s potential and giving shape to its hidden nature. For me each project holds a unique promise that’s derived from the wide array of circumstances giving rise to it.

But, there is one factor, more than others, perhaps, that has the potential to advance or diminish that promise and, as a consequence, to leave me either encouraged or discouraged.

The client who hires me, pays my fees, and whose requirements I’m being paid to respect, is the one who also accepts or rejects whatever I may envision for them. Rejection is, of course, the most discouraging moment of a project and the hardest to integrate. The consequences can be far reaching.

Because projects, potential or real, present me at some point with this potential obstacle to realizing my ideals as an architect, I must continually examine what it is I really want. I always need to take a look at, not just what I want from that particular project, but in the bigger picture, from being an architect.

As an architect I’m paid to help the client achieve their needs and wants. On a personal as well as professional level my ideals and my ability to envision ideal architectural solutions is what drives me.

Taking the long view, when I’m feeling discouraged, it seems easier sometimes to lower my sights in the real world, to keep out of harm’s way my fantasy of what architecture might be.

This, then, is the backdrop to my next post, Wanting More…part 2.

Missing…but not lost

Being an architect, I occasionally sift through my mental library of built environments wondering what might have been. Then I speculate about why it wasn’t. In previous posts I’ve taken a look at the role that the power of familiarity and personal preferences play in the dynamics of making our built world.

Today I want to shift attention to another subtle, but important influence on the design process – although in this case I’m focusing more on residential design. Here, as I search for what might have been, I’m seeing something that I think is a blank spot in the mindset in the way many projects are approached.

That blank spot sets the stage and ultimately impacts the built landscape, meaning it also impacts our lives through the way we experience our surroundings. The effect is sometimes subtle – below the radar, and at other times unavoidably harsh.

Here I want to shift my focus on the nature of that blank spot – on what’s missing, but that’s in our power to recover. As I’ve commented on before, this has something to do with a willingness to see in ways that may conflict with familiar and perhaps cherished patterns.

Residential design, including home improvements – i.e., most residential projects, often begin with little more in mind than solving practical needsBuildings need to work: they need to keep out unwanted weather, provide comfort and security, i.e., function in ways appropriate to their purpose. In itself that’s not a controversial observation. Solving problems of a practical nature is, after all, an important and basic part of the architect’s skill set.

But, as my own mental tour suggests and any tour you might take of real estate guides and residential neighborhoods will demonstrate in abundance, something seems to be missing. I’m not just talking about the quality of design per se. That would be true, but too easy of a target to take aim at. Other people’s tastes/ aesthetic values will always be open season for critiques. One person’s castle may be another’s shack. That is not the perspective that interests me here.

The thing I want to look at instead is what, far too often, seems to be left out of the process entering into a building project.

At the very start of a residential design process certain issues dominate and take priority, e.g., size, cost, style. Although there may be a desire for something new, e.g., appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting, wall finishes, floor coverings, furniture, etc., or that it will turn out nice, provide comfort, and be worth the cost, the risk of wanting much more than that is often seen as too great.

Missing from the client’s agenda far too often (and sometimes, unfortunately, from the architect’s) is a compelling desire to explore. What’s missing is a vital curiosity and willingness to look at how this effort at upgrading or replacing ones home might lay the groundwork for new, life-affirming experiences. Instead, the drive to explore lies dormant in the background.

The thought of exploring a project’s possibilities as architecture fails to gain traction. It remains buried by conventional wisdom that says architecture is irrelevant, elitist, extravagant and frivolous, not to mention, indulgent. From that frame of mind a course is laid out with budgets developed accordingly, omitting what is feared to be a one way trip to burying oneself in debt.

The consequence of hyper-emphasizing practicality, of letting caution dictate, is that it too often sidelines further exploration of  alternative life-serving possibilities and ultimately extends into the built landscape of our lives.  A vital option has then been unnecessarily excluded. 

If this is true, can anything be done? I think so. The doors are not locked shut – choosing to see is always an option.

What ‘might be’ always nags ‘what is’. Within even the most mundane project sleeps the seed of greater possibilities awaiting the curious glance of acknowledgement by an owner who, at first, may only faintly, if hesitatingly, sense its presence. The architect, in order to do his or her best, to explore beyond the familiar and acceptable, needs that acknowledgement.

A willingness to explore unlocks the mind.

What are we talking about here?

Everyone wants on some level to feel more alive. It’s our primal spark. It’s there until we die. Exploration, discovery of what lies beyond, of new experiences, new possibilities, is a natural expression of that spark. The impulse to explore moves life ahead.

Architecture is a manifestation of that spark, that impulse,that exploration. 

Someone wanting to experience life on a deeper level – where who they are emotionally, intellectually and spiritually can be brought closer into the foreground, may choose to have their inner life mirrored in the form of architecture. Their functional, practical needs for shelter are then transformed – expanded – into a kind of three-dimensional, spatial equivalent of music composed just for them.

That music’s uniqueness, its theme and perhaps its melody, germinates within the myriad influences underlying the project: how the client wants to live in this new place; their personal aesthetic preferences; their financial priorities; the various conditions of the building site.

For me, speaking both personally and as an architect, the role nature plays in the formation of this music is particularly significant. Site-specific characteristics, prevailing weather patterns, the ebb and flow from hot to cold and light to dark, the daily rhythms of light and shadow, how that light enters into and impacts our lives, the nature of the materials of construction, all these things become integral to that music.

Architecture, successfully executed, is a respectful response to all these factors. Its success derives from its ability, to some degree, to bring us back in touch with the deeper levels of who we really are, and to that particular place on earth where we choose to build our shelters.

But all this ultimately circles back to those responsible for launching a building project, whether it’s a home improvement or any other type of shelter. Architecture begins with a client working in concert with an architect, both willing to entertain a glance beyond the strictly practical – not at its expense, but simply to look beyond and then allow for a process of discovery. 

Rather than initiating a slide into fiscal purgatory, which would require turning a blind eye to ones financial realities – never a good option, allowing for exploration beyond the familiar should not be done carte blanche. But then, it should not be nipped in the bud prematurely by putting the cost-benefit analysis cart before the horse.

If the quality of your built surroundings is important to you and you’re considering a building project, whether it’s a home or any other type of shelter, pushing – stretching – the envelope of your project’s inherent possibilities is an important option you’ll need to decide upon if you want the best possible outcome.

You, the owner, the one paying for it, have the final word – it’s your money. But the architect’s skills at stretching the envelope are an important part of what you’re paying for.

Of course it may be difficult trying to move beyond the expected and the familiar. That the journey from initial idea to completion can be a struggle and/or test of patience is not so unusual, as any glance at the history of forward motion in human history will reveal.

Nonetheless, as common as frustration may be in the creation of architecture, it is still unfortunate when it’s avoidance leads to a dumbing-down of our built environment. There’s no law of nature demanding that particular outcome.

I think it’s important to the quality of each of our lives to acknowledge the presence of that primal spark of life – that it’s always there to take advantage of, to motivate us and to build from. Budgets are important when planning a building project, as is talent. But even more so in this context is the willingness to explore a project’s inherent possibilities. It’s an important decision that can make life more interesting and fulfilling.

See also: a path least traveled p.1&2, Designing Your Ideal Home…Part 1&2, Shelter: A Choice, L.A. now nation’s densest urban area, considerations, built shelter, Bridging the Gap, why Architecture?

Cross-fertilization

In my recent posts I’ve been drawing your attention to several architects whom I regard as visionary. Their work has stretched the boundaries of what architecture might be.

Now, I’m aware that some of you who’ve checked out these posts or my Pinterest site and are curious about where I come from architecturally may subliminally assume that what I do as an architect mirrors or attempts to duplicate those other works.

With this post I want to try to clarify how I’m influenced by the work and ideas of other architects.

As I touched on in other posts, the architecture I’m drawn to speaks to me in a way that affirms my sense of life and my relationship to the earth. With regard to life’s possibilities they’re, for me, a “yes”. In some way they raise or broaden my perspective on my life and its possibilities. They make my life more interesting.

On the other hand, I know that what I personally get from this architecture is, more likely than not, different from what might be derived by others. Being realistic I know that I’m less likely to be approached to design something for a client whose picture of what they want architecturally may be different from what attracts me. The good thing is that it needn’t end there.

Because I try to be accepting of the role visual language plays in an architect-client relationship, particularly when considering that the language of architecture is foreign to most clients, being understood is a top priority of mine.

This, of course, begs the question: if I know or suspect that my preferences may turn away potential clients, then why in the world would I put effort into broadcasting them to the public at large?

The simplest answer would be that my preferences may also attract clients who share them. I like this answer, but it also makes me uncomfortable. It’s too simple. I don’t know that I would be able to wait it out. I’m not really so masochistic or passive as to believe I could survive as an architect by following that strategy.

Yes, I am in fact wanting potential clients to get a profile of my preferences. But something larger drives me to put myself on display this way. By putting my preferences on public display I’m letting you know that the work of others inspires me and broadens my perspective, that such inspiration plays an important part in my life. It influences how much value you, as a potential client, derive from my creative energies as your architect, whom you’ve hired and who will have such an important impact on your life.

Having said that, I need to make a distinction between being inspired or influenced by other architects and trying to be like them or copy them. This is an important distinction. As an architect, I find copying the work of others to be an unacceptable quest. What originates with someone is uniquely theirs and becomes second hand and unauthentic when duplication is attempted.

Rather than moving me to reproduce it, architecture that engages me fuels my creative energies and drive to discover more of what might be possible when designing. And since it’s not possible or reasonable to create an entirely new language with each new project, the fragments of other projects will always be present. But this is quite different than attempting duplication.

Since many projects are of a less ambitious scope than is implied above, it may seem besides the point to make such a big deal out of inspiration. That conclusion would be a mistake.

Since so many projects are in fact predominately about the nuts and bolts of getting something built, it may seem that inspiration is irrelevant. But even with a project of limited scope such as a room addition, the placement of certain components such as walls, ceilings and openings, not to mention the choice of materials, colors and hardware, will be a factor in how one responds to the final results. How and where they’re placed will be influenced in no small part by the strength and extent of the designer’s creative energies, as well as the client’s willingness to allow for creative exploration.

An inspired architect is far more valuable to a client than one apathetically resigned to remaining invisible, one who, perhaps, avoids trying harder to capture a project’s unique potential.

Anyone pondering the proposition of whether or not to build would be well advised to allow for the wide array of preferences held by their architect. An architect’s inspirations bring life to a project. Yes, building is a lot more than being just about inspired design, but without it it’s at risk of being lifelessly still-born.

Anything that’s designed as part of the built environment, regardless of its scope, can only benefit from the cross-fertilization between architects, from their being inspired.

See also my companion piece, Bridging the Gap – redux.

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.
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Designing Your Ideal Home…Stumbling At The Starting Gate – Some Tips On Getting Back On Your Feet – Part 2

continued from Part-1

So you’ve decided to hire an architect to help you design your new home and you begin to realize that you alone are the one who is ultimately responsible for knowing what you want and how you want it to look. That decision will set the course for how it will ultimately appear. It will have a long lasting impact on your life. With the mounting pressure of that decision you find yourself coming up blank.

 A good place to begin breaking through this impasse is to try understanding how you, personally, see and evaluate your surroundings, especially the built consequences of preferences held by others? How do you respond to what you see around you? What do you like, dislike? Do you wonder why such things ever got built, or does something grab hold of you and make you want to see more of it?

Like many you may start by trying to visualize how your home will look. You may try to recall memories of places you’ve liked. Childhood archetypes of an ideal house, or images of old buildings may crowd their way into the front of the picture.

Or, more likely, as many do, you begin thumbing through magazines searching for whatever draws your attention and inspires you.

But, at this point there’s a dim yet persistent feeling nagging away at you as you start to suffer from image overload, that maybe you don’t know what it is you really want.

Vaguely, you may sense a desire for something somehow different than what you’ve been seeing, something fresher. But you feel caught in a tug of war between attraction to the familiar, which leaves you less than satisfied, and something newer and more exciting, but perhaps scarier.

Missing from this process of attempting to know what it is you really want is any sense of certainty that your choices will be the right ones, ones that you can comfortably live with.

The stuff in the magazines, the childhood images, those period houses from the past, as appealing and right as they may seem, all seem to leave you wanting more.

So you try thumbing through photos of contemporary houses, perhaps uncharted territory for you. A lot of it feels beyond your grasp and, photographically at least, somehow divorced from what you sense should be a house that reflects who you are. So called modern house environments seem to clash with the more familiar images of home as you’ve come to think of it.

The impasse you find yourself at this point begins to frustrate and exhaust you.

You feel the first stab of panic at the prospect of your architect pressuring you into a “look” that’s all wrong for you; pressured because you’re not sure of what it is you really want. This panic grows the longer you feel uncertain. Remaining uncertain easily translates into added cost, the prospect of which inspire flashbacks of “Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House” and “The Money Pit”, driving you further into panic.

Fueling the stress is the mounting pressure to make a decision, one that you know is sound and that you can live with, but feels beyond your capacities to make.

Tossing in the towel now becomes increasingly attractive.

My advice at this juncture is not yet. It’s too early to let your frustrations stop you. Aborting what had the potential to be an exciting new phase in your life calls for some counter strategies.

To give this problem some perspective, remember that no one ever intelligently said that building a home for yourself was the same as visiting a spa. After all, it’s a complex process requiring many months of decision making.

Nonetheless, decisions need to be made.

No escaping it, near the launch of this process you need to know what it is that you really want for yourself architecturally. Or, what you don’t want. Either way, your peace of mind requires some measure of certainty when faced with that crucial decision.

Here are a few suggestions on becoming better acquainted with what you really want your home to be.

A good a place to start as any is to slow down – pull away for awhile; get yourself off the clock. Get back into your body; give your mind a rest.

Let your mind wander.

Begin to actively notice things in your daily surroundings and your response to them. Notice what you love, like, dislike, hate, or are indifferent to. While in a more relaxed state, make an effort to understand why.

Notice whether you like something because of it’s familiarity. We tend to respond positively to those things that we recognize and have gotten use to. On the other hand, be aware that they may also be handcuffing you to something less than what’s possible.

After a while pay another visit to the world of architecture. Do it in small doses. Since most houses are difficult, if not impossible, to experience from the street, go back and visit the architectural media, printed or online.

Visit architectural websites. For starters, as I mentioned above, take a look at my various sites. One of my favorites for this purpose is Pinterest. Visit other online sites such as Architizer, The Architect’s List, Houzz, and Google images and Triangle Modernist Houses. And then there are all the printed mags like Dwell, Architect Magazine, Architectural Digest and many more. Notice your gut reactions to what you see.

Pace yourself. Let all this slowly simmer. Give yourself time to digest it all.

Step back again and let your real likes rise to the surface. What will happen is that the doors in your mind will open up to the process of discovery which is at the heart of architecture.

Take note of your responses. Become familiar with them. You’ll find yourself arriving at a place somewhere along the spectrum of architectural possibilities that begin to feel right for you. Your confidence in your choices will begin to strengthen.

And finally, at some point, with greater peace of mind, you become aware that you’re ready to get on with the journey. The time has arrived for you to let the process be an adventure.

Enjoy the trip.

W.L.