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The Unavoidable Polymath

August 8, 2019

We see, hear, taste, feel, think, speak and act. There is exquisite integration. I see tiny children thinking with forming minds, garbling ideas, moving as they can in response: completely unaware anyone is judging them. In short order the cells have connected, the acts of interaction in the world are now becoming defined, controlled, focused – but the motivations soon include being approved, linked, correct.

That sliding scale between ability and motivation becomes a simple cross: the more we can do, the more we control to obtain approval, and assume more control.

Architecture has long been a place of “Both/And” – meeting the strictures of codes, laws, physical realities of materials, weather, and gravity, and technological methods of electricity, water, air, all swirled together in human control: expressing art, or logic, or history, or innovation, or the designer’s mind: Architecture becomes a fantasy of synthesis – Art & Science.

That synthesis of opportunity is like the toddler’s mind: all open, all compelling, all possible: and life compels prioritization: adhering to those laws,the money to build, but mostly to the mind of the designer.

If the mind is polemical, proving a point, making an argument, expressing a singular will the buildings become objects of message. If buildings make an argument, you cannot argue back: the point is permanent, not open to discussion. And every building always has a coda: “Deal With It.”

The users then change themselves to what another human has made: control is realized.

But buildings are passive. They are simply what we “deal” with. If the users hate it, hate its priorities because they are not the designer, their compliance merely stiffens the hate. However, buildings, like all the things humans do, reflect the humans more than they direct. We use highways, but the impatient speed, the careless crash, the trapped curse. It is simply stating the obvious that the idea of making blocs of rooms to warehouse humans as symbols of habitation floating over the landscape looked compelling in drawings of Mid-Century, but wrecked lives in danger and depression until most of them are getting removed.

But polymath design has more places to register the human context. First, why exile history, thus memory, from what we build?

Why limit materials to an abstract palette, machined to untouchability? Why devalue detail as a feature, a place of delight, versus detailing work that strives to deny materiality.

Why do we start, as architects and consumers of architecture, to lose the joy in experience for the safety of being “correct”? Why lose our humanity to become “serious” architects cleaving to a Canon, adapting a Style?

The same reason the toddler stops laughing. The same reason we look in the mirror before we see others. Click on the Internet to are sure we are living the correct life as seen in the images of Social Media.

You could argue that the New Technology allows us all to extend polymathy into a full, long life of more choices, thoughts, and joys.

Why can’t we find a way to be adults with a toddler’s heart? Let’s start with the way we use buildings.

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