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I Could Not Do Anything Else

June 26, 2021

“You must love being an architect!”

This is said to me often. Somehow the “branding” of architects is resilient to all the pretense and irrelevance my profession exudes. But the creation of a tangible thing, a piece of technology, Craft, environmental consequence, and, yes, beauty, has an allure that is real and abiding.

Ideas are great things. Writers capture them like butterflies in a bottle. So do artists and poets. The joy of performing and sharing is with every musician, dancer and actor. Every builder, chef and craftsman makes objects that delight themselves and those who consume their wares.

But architects, when they build, can combine all these arts into what they do.

Goethe called architecture “The mother of the arts”.I think it is more of a crucible. What we believe, who we are, what we value is inevitably present in what humanity builds. Architects apprehend social, economic, technological aesthetic, even historic and emotional realities and create built things that embody moments in our culture and our person.

But that is not why I am an architect.

Unlike every assumption of love and fulfillment that is gifted to me by so many, my 48 years immersed in making is not an option, not a choice, not earned, not even a point of pride. It is first and always the center of gratitude from me to those who trust me to channel their hope and cash and fear into making something, anything.

If I calculated the value of any one thing I do, I would grade the fruits of my devotion. We have exquisitely different children. How can I grade them? I love them both fully, that is their only evaluation.

So, no, I am not proud to be an architect, I am grateful for the faith others have in what I do. I am not proud because whatever I do has been given to me. Of course I am devoted, so I work with complete investment – but where did that devotion come from? I can turn a piece of something into joy, even define a place into a gift, but I did not do that. I am but a cypher for the inscrutable mystery of what God gives each of us.

So no, I do not love “architecture”. “Architecture” is not what I chose to do, it chose me. Because I did not make myself, you did not either. Every one of us was given the unjustifiable, unearned, realities of who we are.

What we do with all we have been given is what we live with. If you woke me up from a dead sleep, and you asked me “Who are you?!” I would utter “football”. But I could be nothing but “architecture” because I am too weak and too slow to do what gives me great joy beyond the young efforts of others who cannot go farther than their teenage years.. But the gift of understanding allowed me to know that. And I played before steroids were available – if they were I would probably be dead now.

We are not what we do. I am an architect because I can do nothing else.

We have been given what we are capable of doing and the will to do it. This is not an excuse, it is a charge of ultimate responsibility. If I created my life, I would define happiness. But no, happiness is finally not found in the outcomes of what you do. Happiness, for me, is doing all I can with the gifts God gave you.

And every other human you see and meet.

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