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Connecting The Dots

July 16, 2015


As in any week, small disappointments, failures and missed opportunities abound in this one. The shortfall of ego projection is unrelenting. We control not much, but want to manifest outcomes in every endeavor.

The response to this incapacity is often as pathetic as the assumption of entitlement: why did this (or didn’t this) happen to/for me? Inability poisons any given moment, day or week until the broader truth, that was always hiding in plain sight, bumps into you (you certainly did not move to it).

In my petulance, I went to see a client. Who has a 40-something year old son. Who cannot walk, talk, or control any function. The dad has carried him or held him most of the 40+ years. I knew this, have encountered them for over 10 years, helping them stabilize a bungalow – now thinking about the time when the parents are not there and the son lives on.

But my distraction by the tiny slights and grammatical errors of my narrative made the son’s (and the parents’) reality far starker and real. I connected the dot of my tiny “problems” and their entire, grinding, life of deep love and found myself in the place I always was: powerless in the end and subject to the grace that I cannot understand. My state of incomplete expectations meant I have expectation beyond survival and getting through the day.

Lack of understanding breeds only 2 outcomes: fear or hope. For me I effort hope.

But powerlessness creates the need in us to simulate having power. We can control minutiae by sorting it: but that simulation of control is only retrospective.

In the last few years several architects I was acquainted with have died: completely unexpectedly. They were the aggressive, unshy variety, but manifest a sense of propulsion: “making it happen”. Now they have ceased. Like anybody with fewer years ahead than behind I connected my dot with theirs – in their case the period that ended their time on earth.

Beyond earning a living, where does propulsion get us? Legacy. What we did, and what it lead to. To know the “what” of the buildings architects design names have to be given: and styles are born.

The word “Style” to me is as absurdly reductionist as “Religion”. Many artists effort affect to find themselves a place in a sea of uncertainty – by being the right “style” to get a job, an award, invited to the right party, professorship, lecture series. Many people effort the affect of “religion” to find themselves in a larger sea of uncertainty – the churning tides of life: here, now, and then – what?

Those 2 affects: “style” and “religion” merge in architecture for most, if not all of the celebrated elite starchitects in our midst. To make aesthetic theology you need the psalms, meditations and devotional rhetoric that translates art to language: you need names: you need “Styles”.

To believe in the greater good (beyond, say, helping a family cope with a severely disabled son), you need those styles to create “movements” that are just sects with evolutionary logic: “Classical” begat “Gothic” begat “Beaux Arts” begat “Modern” – Old Testament, Gnostic Gospels, New Testament etc..

Charles Jencks – the architect/writer who flourished in the “Post-Modern” era 40 years ago created a chart (above) graphicisizing what had been muttered and alluded to: architecture is a Tower of Babel: where we all speak building, but in unreconcilable tongues.

That was cute then as there were real crazed offshoots mirroring a counter cultural revolution that simultaneously facilitated Nehru Jackets and the Civil Rights Movement.

Now, in a time more in fear than the hope of of the 1960’s architecture has hunkered into a place where there is one giant glacier, Fine Arts High Modern, and some calving off along its inexorable, grinding path. But in the end, “inside baseball” is only important on that part of the Tower of Babel where others can hear you.

Because, sadly, what “Style” any architect affects does not help the family with the severely disabled kid. Or the $20K budget, or the endless regulations imposed on anything. Personal responsibility is not just about dotting i’s and crossing t’s – its about what gives any architect joy within when the creation actually gets built and succeeds beyond “Style”. “What” is not so important – “how” and “why” are, inevitably the drivers that make intentions walk the talk.

Legacy can be simulated by naming its benchmarks: but that retrospective is not legacy: its rationalization: legacy, for me, is like a stone wall, built one client, project, effort at a time, looking forward, not back – and not sideways at what others are doing…

The failure of Post Modernism did not change Jencks: he creates more graphical charts to make sense of the senseless, to create Canon where creativity should be self-evident not anointed by a Star Chamber. More names, more cites, more retroactive sense making of a few hundred thousand creative building designing in built form: some looking to find their place on the chart: most not even knowing there is one.

Architects or not, we all want to sort, control, thus predict and obtain: but no humans control: we work hard and hope. Or fear. We do not even know what gravity is beyond its measure, so what, really, can we control?

It is not a bad thing we fail, we sort, we name, we connect the dots that are unconnectable beyond hope: because in each of these things there is hope that its all worth doing.

But sadly for us, for me, hope always falls short. We are addicted to the charts for success that we draw or are drawn for us. So we continue connecting dots.

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