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Safe Space

June 10, 2017

image
Everyone wants a nest.

Everyone has a nest.

Some of us make our nest.

I am an architect who went to an Ivy school.

When I went to Cornell in the 1970’s it was a place of radical action. There were student radicals – anti-Vietnam, Black Panther, student government zealots. It was a wild scene in architecture school.

Professors had been fired the year before I arrived to end the pedagogic lock step of the so-called “Texas Rangers” – a group of professors that had created a thoroughly abstracted design education where the act of building was distantly second to “Formalism” – it was a discipline for any fine arts expression, not merely architecture.

Now, I live near New Haven, and many friends attend Yale. Speakers are not invited or listened to if their message is too “dangerous” – the students cannot “unhear” the wrong message. Any personal contact can be unsafe: including a professor telling students, in writing, that Halloween costumes are both fantasy and humor, not commentary. She was forced to quit. Those costumes were potentially dangerous missiles of hate.

Quiet, beautiful Yale should be a “Safe Space”.

Back in the day, I won a Record House Award – inclusion in the issue of Architectural Houses issue back then was the highest recognition any architect-designed house could have. In that day, it was a rollicking issue – about 20 wildly different projects. Then diversity mattered more than safety.

This week I received the 2017 issue. It had a wildly fun house on the cover: a bold move: but inside, all but a few of the 10 or so projects were very, very “safe” – High Modern (one of them is this piece’s picture). As with the last 30 years that issue, where I had 4 recognitions in the years before the 21st century was “Safe”.

The self-referential Modernist aesthetic is intact within the Record House pages in the last generation. My work is not safe and has not been its pages for awhile. That hurts.

Despite those awards, and 20 others – many awarded by the AIA, I was never in the American Institute of Architects until I was told it abetted my 6th book: I was almost 50, the time was a wild Housing Bubble world where architects were being celebrated in the house world – I said sure.

So I paid dues (and won more awards) for the last dozen years. I was then asked to compete to be a Fellow – 3,000 out of the 80,000 architects in the AIA, out of the 140,000 who could be. Winning is important to me, not safety.

I won, with over 100 others in 2017, I was offered safety: the AIA is just like Yale and Record Houses: it is a safe place for the convinced. Architects are important there.

I played and coached football in the 1970’s, too. It hurt. It was dangerous (I was taught to tackle with my head) but it’s greatest danger is in the Ivy world where football (that I coached in the 1980’s and later helped create a player of in the 2000’s) is viewed as a primitive tribal act of mental insufficiency.

Football’s dangers and ugliness are not alone in the Ivy Outlook. I am an Episcopalean. I am not just a cultural devotee, I know that God is with me every day. It is an awkward fact for the secular when they bump into into my faith. My faith is delusion for many people I know and love. It’s not safe to be born in Faith in a world that has faith in this world.

I live seeing a greater good that I fail at everyday: It hurts.

We all want safety. The world is a dangerous place. There are bad actors, opportunities for ugly, and fear is everywhere because danger is everywhere.

Some wear winter coats. I do not own one. I would rather be doing what my clients, the site, my insights demand to create things that speak a different truth than what Record Houses feels is safe.

I became an AIA Fellow this year, but I cannot find safety in that embrace – it’s still the box I think out of. God is not a thumb to suck: my failures are not a safe space for me, no matter his Grace.

It’s my Cornell Alumni Reunion this year – I did not go.

Safety is overrated.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2017 2:44 pm

    I haven’t had time to read this month’s AR yet. Lately it’s made me yawn, but I’ve written about it in the past (Vogue Architecture).

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