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Future History

April 15, 2018

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Time is the missing reality in Architecture.

History is as present as gravity in all our lives, and yet both are taken for granted. The moment the paint is dry on a building, it ceases to be a design, or a construction, and becomes a marker in history. Like a newborn, when designs become buildings, hopes and ideas become current events, and immediately are part of history.

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In being an architect I am surrounded by those with obsessions of the built kind, My clients are desperate to build, and are willing to risk everything to make what manifests their hopes and dreams. But those intangibles that fill all the vagaries of construction have the most real of consequences in their enactment – chiefly money.

Last week, a hard 2 hour debate with a builder and a client at my table on one of these projects (the plywood on the hillside above) that we are doing pro bono was brutal. The final result is that we are building, the best way we can, and for the right money – but only after a full airing. Hopes became current events, birthing in contest and collaboration.

3 days before that, I was in Oregon, where a couple interviewed me to manifest their dreams, fully reinventing their lives. It involved a very finite amount of money. And perhaps me, a cost. We worked for 24 hours on getting to how a very risky project can be made even more riskier with a remote architect. Maybe better, too. In the end, they saw this is what I do: leverage 40 years and whatever abilities I have been given.

In all these efforts, the goal is to create the next manifestation of history for whatever money is available, this time, here:

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We are moving forward.

Yesterday I visited the land in the picture at the top of this piece where the exact same scenario is playing out in Maine. And the day before that I visiting another patch of land in Massachusetts, where opportunity and hope may bond with faith to make a home:

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And two days before, in New York, I visited two more places where only hope could overcome unending natural impediments; this time for those who have no place to live: the homeless. Unless we can offer up a design and a budget, the town will simple keep a largely unused parking lot in a town where some simply sleep where they can. Again, this push into the unknown is hope in the present tense.

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In between, on the way to those other hopes, I saw another place of the present becoming the future and saw faith being birthed, still amid fear, as costs are never fully known, and the risks great. But so are the rewards:

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And before that, in Connecticut I saw the endgame of birthing hope, an emergent home, almost there, but still unknown final costs and a schedule that has no flexibility: a place for children to live is involved:

But all these scenarios played out across 5 states in a week, all of them are flying into history. In a few years (or months in some cases) these dynamic, complicated machines of effort become our simplest need after air, food and love; a place to live. A place in history for everyone involved.

But more, these buildings – all buildings – find a place in the history of each and all of their places, their presence changing everything, often just a little, sometimes a lot.

And the aging in place of these acts of faith and love become part of our culture, our legacy, and hopefully the universal hope of humanity. But building anything is the necessary reality if there is faith. But the faith is broader than any design. The most hopeful act is having children – necessary for human survival, but a dangerous and complicating reality in our lives. But unlike buildings, a baby can be an unintentional act of a moment’s lust.

But architecture is not momentary: It is a long, hard devotion, involving the deepest of commitment, counteracting the primal fear.

Architecture overcomes the risks of faith in the power of love to overcome real fears. But architecture not only addresses gravity (and weather and aesthetics and technology and materials and values) –  architecture is a part of the equally universal reality of history. Architects forget that. I forget that. In the moment of making it is easy to take the made as a given, a done deal, but we should know that history is present in that we do now – in all things, but especially architecture.

The glue of our shared experience bonds us together, that makes for a context to all our desires, impulses, efforts in the rear view mirror of what we have done. Architecture, building things together, is one of the experiences that lives after our passing.

History is not often dealt with in the design of architecture beyond either mimicking “style” or rejecting “styles” that have gone before us. When the goal is to build, there is so much more to overcome in real time, mostly in the future tense to get anything built that perspective is in short supply.

But this week of futures and possibilities, the realities of time and its passage were hard to ignore for me. As hopes become real in construction, the fears become dangers, and those who are in the middle of it cope amid planning. If the sense of time and history were part of the process of design, the inevitable fears may become inspiration.

But the history we devote to when we have children or just make buildings is not our motivation, but history is our consequence.

A week of living into the future on all theee sites now has an ascending event embracing the future of those who are the the next generation of future architects in Italy, Connecticut and California, and the intercontinental, 10,000 miles of effort have one denominator; the humanity of hope in building anything.

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It is our present bond, but it is more tangibly our common history. It is time to know that before we design anything.

One Comment leave one →
  1. markitectsilva permalink
    April 18, 2018 7:57 am

    And, you are providing these people with beauty in their lives.

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