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Life After Death

September 6, 2021

Things live because we are alive to see them.

If we cease to be they are gone, but while we are still here, the death around us can have a reanimation. Of sorts. For, of, and by us. If not physically, then perceptually.

Liz and I created our home 38 years ago. The site was a part of the back yard of “Oak Hill” – a 13.8 acre swath of swamp, upland of Rt.1, therefore framed mostly by the dreaded fragmites grasses surround the swamp, then bull briers, Jewell weed and the evil poison ivy. These all came after about a century or two the Chittendens using this glacial moraine rock dump as a sheep pasture. They built an ungainly box there around 1910 as a vacation home for the lesser side of the family. In the Reagan Boom, 5 lots we carved out of the swamp edge and became homes. When finances were tricky, we bought the last bit of land, the backyard of the manse, which was the garbage dump of the Chittendens for about 80 years.

The sheep managed to eat all the ground cover on what was a terrible piece of land before World War 2, fully denuding the property of everything except the fully mature trees that had popped up a century or two ago – before the sheep showed up, mostly white oaks, mostly beautiful. We also have birch, swamp maple, black cherry, even an American elm. And a perfect Sugar Maple, sitting before our home in all its glory to the point where we could only fringe plant hostas about it and the native Lillie’s would seldom bloom in its ever darkening shade.

I walk 60 feet to work out every day, like I am now. Right past the maple. Returning home, 4 years ago, I see the terrifying sight most associate with a parent who does not recognize you: outward beauty, but up top, just there, the yarmulke of bright orange. The Maple Plague. Sure Death. It was only time. Next year more bare branches, more orange leaves, then, 3 years ago, the leafing out of much of the tree was followed by instant, tragic falling of zillions of fallen leaves in August. Then a quick visit by my Tree God, and yes, removal.

But, wait.

When we built our barn, about 16 years earlier, I had to remove a fairly sad Red Oak. But we saved its central shaft trunk, had a movable sawmill come and cut it up, and I stickered it and set up under our house and air dried it for 3 years then had it dressed and then installed in that barn. A great, lively legacy. It’s stump is slowly disappearing after 20 years, but the floor shines.

The maple came down, but we were too cheap to have the Tree God remove the fallen limbs and trunk. So, I had a large son help remove all the smaller branches, left the middling ones and were left with three stout 10 foot trunk logs, over 3ft-6in wide to under 3ft. I had another sawyer take a look, “Can’t do it here, trunk is too big, driveway too steep.” So the first $1,000 moved the three huge trunks to a field where only one of the three passed the inspection of the sawyer. And we dove into creating quarter sawn pieces at the maximum width of his mill blade, 20in.

With some muscle and time we ended up with over 20 pieces.

The pieces had a coloration in them that was wild. Yes, some spaulting, even some nail holes from about 100 years worth of tacking sheep herding barbed wire to the trunk, but that film of coloration was something that neither the sawyer, nor I, nor my Wood God,  had ever seen before.

That coloration made me feel better about the next $1K that I paid to the sawyer. We loaded the pieces, heavy and wet into our Volvo station wagon. And slowly, slowly went aaaaall the way down Rt. 1 except the I-95 bridge, and made it home.

We then stacked them using plastic stickers and covered them with a plastic tarp for the next 2.5 years.

I took a sample 5 months ago to my Wood God who measured the moisture. “Well, 10.5% or 9.75% – not good.” The large son was now in Okinawa (I just spelled that Oakinawa). I had an intern who was an inside linebacker for Yale with me until the end of July.

I bought a dehumidifier, connecting a hose, and propped it under the tarp, with a hole to drag in a little make air. It worked, but first I had to figure out how to best use the next wad of cash to plane to thickness and cut to edge and cross cut to length.

All three applications had different thicknesses and edge profiles for three separate uses. If I had enough wood. I measured.

I had just enough, and labeled three thickness, three edge conditions, all maximum width and then some careful harvesting cross cuts.

Three sticks were left to make two glued up countertops for WPKN,

The rest went home.

Then another, easy, trip at about 2/3s the weight of the first almost 3 years ago. Then using an esoteric 2 part water urethane that was deemed the best way to penetrate the maple by a Finish God (as maple is ever weird with finish). I did 2 full coats on both sides, mixing the two parts with each bit’s usage. That was another $150.

Then the layout…

Then getting the Finish God’s super esoteric glue as one floor was over not much and thin, and the other was Wide. That, and the Wood God’s millworking killed the next $1K.

But the glued up and resawn, sanded, counter tops were retrieved, and needed finishing, this time with Tung Oil. 7 coats with sanding then rubbing in between over two weeks.

Then they were installed.

And at long last after weeks of acclimation, the floors went in, then 5 more coats for one floor, 4 more for the other. By professionals. The last $1,800.

Why do I do this? The cost ended up being $20 a square foot, finished and installed. About what I could have purchased in the retail market. But there was no skill, effort or history put into buying a thing. Saving history makes history.

Beauty. History. Need. Using my mind and body in ways no IPad or Sharpie can. And this:

And I have cutting boards to make…

HOMES of Salvation

August 24, 2021


For most homes are the place of familiar settings, of comfort, of safety. Homes should not threaten, they should welcome us into our Safe Place of protection, of pleasant harbor. But for some, homes extend their humanity into the future. Homes provide a place of expression, hope, even risk in their innovation and vision.

Throughout the last 150 years homes went beyond the extension of their occupants’ values and aesthetics into the world of architectural, social and technological aspiration. For some, homes became laboratories of experimentation in “New” hope and possibility. Homes offered salvation to their owners, the civilization and architectural vision that could transform the way humanity makes buildings.

Homes have always been the lab rats of architecture. Their size, the control their builders had upon their outcome meant homes could project all the possibilities we invested in them. But like most experiments, these transformative attempts fail. We are seeing new trial balloons, right now, based on the same human desperation to make the “New” – even if in this effort happens in the oldest structure that humans built, our homes.

Home Page welcomes Taunton Press’s Peter Chapman and the New Haven Museum’s Jason Bischoff-Wurstle and others to steak about these and of Salvational Homes:

Container Homes,

Reproduction Homes

Living Roof/Buried Homes

Tiny Homes,

3D Printed Homes

Rammed Earth Homes

Net Zero Homes

Pressure Treated Wood Homes

Urethane Foam Homes

Dymaxion Homes

Usonian Homes

The Nourishment of Bad Fortune

August 22, 2021


We are not you. You are sadly in a bad place. So sad. For you. I am not sad because I am not you.

As weather, uncontrolled, vaguely predicted, is anticipated, the perfectly haired, well dressed Talking Heads Of Weather Reporting are amped up in fully glory. They are now important because, in theory, they know what you do not.

But they know nothing more than the internet updates scientists give them. They extend possibility into disaster. As long as things are bleak, they are important. You are powerless, they have power.

But they are nothing more than you or I. They only offer tiny facts fully sauced with dire terror and deadly threat, dished out with the authority of the tiny screens we watch.

They are Ghouls.

Living, thriving on others’ fears. Drinking the blood of ignorance. Feasting on terror. Reveling in the fear they have no answer for. Using the misfortune of others to lord their “I told you so.” gravitas over lives that are simply without authority or control.

But that have no power, authority, control or any importance that we do not give them.

Channel turned. It’s always summer sweet in Mayberry.

August 21, 1955

August 21, 2021

It was hot. It was middle Suburbia, in Middle 20th Century. Floods were ranging through Pennsylvania. It was the 8th month of 1955, every one of which had been in pregnancy, now soon over.

The drugs were administered, but less this fourth time in the 11 years and three previous pregnancies. Yet there would be little awareness of birth, save awakening to a visiting baby, soon rushed out of sight, for feeding. Being a boy, immediate circumcision.

The third child to live, after a loss, full term, of the firstborn (perhaps due to a doctor delayed by a golf game), brought to air breathing by uncontrollable contractions of physical ejection, out into a white linen antiseptic place of bright light and safety from the murky world of human pain and mess.

Mother’s milk was inferior to manmade nutrition. The father was absent, as he was for much of the rest of the post birth world. Great celebration, soon home to a place of a five and ten year old. long out of diapers fully enmeshed in schooling. This careful composition was betrayed by the delay in its effectuation, after a brutal war wrecked every norm – for these parents the pre-war decade of childfree by choice bliss in the party, jazz of booze and cigarettes of Manhattan was forever ago.

The parties were over. the jazz was on the HiFi, and Manhattan was a nice place to visit. Meals were now nutritious from fresh frozen, work was from a railroad, days started and ended by the train schedule. But this last, this third child was born the last brick in the wall building a Family after the chaos of war, capping the Family Home, fully remade in the hopes of the parents, now filled by three new humans not even considered a dozen years before.

Children were now part of our culture’s life. Their creation and their creation beyond birth had become the Prime Directive it always was, but now with the desperation of survivors. It was a time of trying to control what had been completely threatened, ended for many, dubious in its outcome, but, now, in a world my parents were creating.

But they, then, like we, now, forget that the world makes us, too. What we are is not made by us, but we are made by all the realities we cannot control. So the gap between what was given and what was wanted was filled with the ways that could be controlled. Birthing in white linen, with all the safety of the unconscious. Living in the creations that could be made, versus accepting what was unavoidable.

66 years ago today, the last piece of construction was put into place, and the next 20 years saw that place be what it always was, uncontrollable. A family that started together pulled away for survival, shaping the new lives, defining those who created them.

There are seldom heroes and villains outside of the comic book, there are only us, the humans. We are not what we create, we are created by what we never were, but in the reality of what we come to want.

Birth is a gift. It was undesired by the born, but completely necessary for their existence, but at the moment the cord is cut, the birth simply continues, until the human that is made can know who they are, and who made them.

Birthdays, then, for me, are a marker, not a celebration. The change from the murky mess of making into the white linen hopes did not stop when I breathed air for the first time. But being born happened. Today. 66 years ago.

Humanity Built This

August 7, 2021

We, the humans, forget that we make things beyond need. We want so badly that we confuse desire with necessity. Things like war, a pandemic, a broken bone tell us pretty quickly that we are fully righteous in our expectations, but there has been no transactional entitlement. We earn nothing, we buy nothing – we are just given a place to make things.

When it comes to architecture, the basics make for survival and safety. Beyond that it is all humanity. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact there is everything right with it. After all, we are making the place we want, we do not expect it to be a gift. We make it.

Some of us are afflicted with beauty. Not being in possession of it, we are searching for it. In effort, the desire is unrewarded. I have that disease. If absent, hope unravels into disappointment. Whether words, pictures, dinner, a song, or even, forgive me, buildings, trying to find the spark of joy that has no recipe is often a self-fulfilling depression. But sometimes human effort has a place.

Humanity is based on purpose and meaning: our motivations and outcomes. Consequently, we are depressed over the unanswerable need to know what beauty is because we have been exultant in its perception. To think that the joy of beauty is limited to art, or music or architecture is sophistry. Beauty is in the warp and woof of the human condition, in everything we do.

Our lives are transactional: we learn, we perform, we achieve, and we receive the results of our efforts. In some things. But as anyone who has children knows, motivations to not guarantee outcomes. In our perception of beauty, we earn nothing, but when we are parched, we drink. When we are exhausted, we sleep. When humanity seeks value beyond survival, inevitably drudge and worry define the impossibility of a transactional life. But joy comes in. Nice is nice, but experiencing the joy of beauty is as real as any drudge or worry.

Our need to define the joy beyond sensation is what makes the spiritual so elusive, incoherent, even dangerous in its ambiguity. The lack of an orthodoxy, scripture, commandments when perceiving beauty make any experience of it completely idiosyncratic, unless we can see the universality of the joy we all experience beyond any tangible, definable, defendable benefit.

The exquisite obsessions humans have with shapes, spaces, materials, colors is not found in other animals. There is no theory outside human theory. Instinct is not theory. That theory, us, can trigger delight or cause devotion. But making points is not making beauty.

A group of humanity, a church, asked me to take a century of religion making a focal barrier in architecture. The layers of ritual, aesthetics, theology came to overwhelm the reality of faith. Rather than faith a few generations had made religion essential to our culture, a societal entitlement. Some of this is changing.

This church did this in response.

It took effort, listening and creating.

It took some removing

And some remaking

But a process created a product because humans listened to other humans. Each knew things the other did not and, together, they made a place. Here are some steps.

The existing.

Then options

One option resonated, with changes…

Things had to get defined and understood, more communication

And then another round of communication with the builders of the design

And then creating cost, by bidding. For under $150,000 in 2020, this was built in New England. Because communication happened, because everyone listened, every one.

And creation happened. What was closed was opened and made accessible. In all ways.

What was layered in time and tradition, was fully revered, but reconsidered.

And Craft came into being

The result is not a new thing, or a reused thing, but a different thing, made from old and new. Because we, all of us, are made from old and new. Humans are not you, now, in your head. Humanity is us, all of us, each with the insides of a head, and a history, and a spirit. We, alone in our little universe of this world, can do that.

And we do.

Methods of Making

August 6, 2021

This model is smaller than my fist.

Today, models like these are mostly done in two dimensions, on screens, after some scribbles, some hard-lining (on a screen) of those scribbles. Creation results. It really does not matter how you vision, revision, or make before finding what is to be made, the important reality is to connect your mind to the place, people, ideas, requirements, Craft, and limits of law and nature that are to be imposed. These are the methods of “practice”, but before the procedures are set, those means need to follow how the creator thinks and visions, then works through the eventualities that any approach encounters.

This is not doctrinaire, following a fine arts declension of “hierarchy” or “transparency” even “allegory” or “vernacular” . I think making things starts with humans and humans start with motivations. And the end of all the means and methods is an outcome: the outcome should not render motivations a problem, or even a complication, an outcome results from those motivations, processed through the means of visioning and communication.

These are my ways of making, communicating. They are just mine. But first, anyone needs a place to make yourself. The laptop suffices for many, but a bunch of humans can make more things better, so firms of humans result.

These gatherings are organized somehow, usually by one or three who know more and some who know less, and are learning, by helping to make things. So communication within a firm is crucial.

These communications are tough because the way the design of something happens is often inarticulate, autonomic and idiosyncratic. So profiling that is hard. Drawings help, drawings with words, more:

But we find models are the best way to communicate to each other, before any owner/ user sees any thing.

The scribbles we make are often inscrutable shorthand of reactions, not creation.

But the ping pong game starts when the user/client sees the options we define, with their preconceptions, hopes fully presented, then variants, then fully revisit ironed ideas from the same database the user/client gives you.

The ideas of user/clients are transformed – they know what is needed, a designer knows what is possible, and a dialogue begins, where trust and listening mean more than being “right”. But I think that trust starts in the value each creator has for what is inside their hearts and minds, rather than in the screens of ArchDaily.

That listening, awareness, openness comes only from knowledge that leads to understanding, so the step ladder of firms and apprenticeship give tools no school can teach. Those tolls then can be offered to the user/clients who, if they trust, listen and think, give the communication an edge of reality nor “outcome” can simulate. Each of these elevations are the size of my thumb. And they offered enough communication that we were not hired to do the job. A good thing, because our motivations – ascendance with light and form – were not the user/clients’, and the communication left us both where we are, not thinking the other should be something else.

The communication past the origin of an idea that works is as long and varied as any part of the design/build process.

And it leads to a building:

But unless all options are openly showed, even the ones the creator thinks are compromised then the communication is skewed to outcomes, nor rooted in motivations.

But the building of a consensus of approach is as joyful as any other part of making. There is no “dirty work” if your final motivation is to make, not to have a specific predetermined outcome, then the making can be the fulfillment of the communication not a rationalization. That means, again, that knowledge is key. And the knowledge of school is not enough, while the knowledge of actually making is critical.

The way to get consensus is not by selling an idea, to exclusion of the truth of all possibilities it is to take the time to present the opportunities in ways that convey all the properties, whether positive or challenging – use, cost, maintenance, context, environment, aesthetics – all of them. That is User/client communications.

With full transparency, and for me that means physical models. If there is no communication, there is just hope and fear. And fear often wins out, and things are not built.

If your mission is to make things, then a pluralistic, human, open communication is necessary, because that is how humans trust and commit. Without communication what makers make is an outcome, bought or left on the rack. Without communication, in the beginning, middle and building of the motivations, only luck determines a good fit.

So the technologies of the computer, the 3D Xerox, the watercolor painting, the video, these models, are all fine, good and great if they are open ended explorations of sharing, not sales tools to justify an outcome that bends motivations to result in a product, a predetermined outcome of the creator, deaf to the user.

Scale: Size Matters

August 5, 2021

Every thing, every where, has a size. Dimension is upon every corporeal thing in our universe. But Size is not Scale.

Rather than gravity, time, even craft, the Scale of what we make can be a result of what it is and does, or its Scale is completely independent of its Size. A skyscraper can be a lamp post. A home can be a Cathedral. A room can be a hall, or closet. Any number of buildings are rendered as cubes, blobs or walls, and they work hard to either be Monopoly Board pieces or mountains of pure form. They do not want scale. You could not tell the size of these creations by any 2D representation.

Unless a human is there. Humanity defines architecture, because it is used, or it is sculpture. Sculpture can have any size, it has no need for scale. It is not just architecture that humans make of sculpture, humans transform many essential elements by their presence and use:

Time is not History.

Gravity is not Structure.

Materials are not Craft.

Just like these realities, Size only becomes Scale when Humans are imposed upon its apprehension.

Scale is hard to teach, but fully it is easy for humans to spot misfit.

An easy target, the low fruit of scaleless reality, is found in the work of Albert Speer. Young, ego famished and offered unlimited budgets of Nazi Germany, young architect Speer was able to fully eliminate scale in the pursuit of Size.

These, of course are doors. The drawing shows the doorknob, perhaps 3 even 4 feet off the floor.

Doors are perhaps 18 feet high, maybe 4 feet wide. Size betrays scale when humans inhabit anything. Like this monument.

The lower arcade might have 20 or 40 foot high vaults that tiny humans pass through. And the monument itself, well, it is as big as the buildings it was going to address, fully.

I do not think you could see a human in this scale. Inhumanity was the motivation, and the outcome. That was the only scale.

We deny ourselves when we deny scale. It is absurd on its face when a chair cannot be fudged in size (or it is useless), but everything else is Size without Scale.

At least the doors relate.

But ideas can be made universal without being inhuman, like Boullee’s hope. He actually shows humans in this rendering. For a monument to a human, not inhumanity.

Capturing the universe inside architecture in Perfect shape and space, with no intention of any real scale, is a hard motivation, and that can become an outcome. That outcome only comes when you build something, whether you like the size of the pieces that try to be unseen to make a place that defies scale or not.

Or you take an idea and give that idea the scale of a place. Like this farmer’s home. Given scale only by its human entry.

Some architects fully loath scale. Sometimes a shape is just a shape and can be a toaster or a city. But some things use the reality of sizes to scale their real size. I make things that have scale in their size by showing how they are made.

When you know how to make something and want that Craft to be of the thing made, you have scale, not matter what the size is.

No matter what we make, humans make it. When we try to defy the making of anything we are revealing that the outcome of what we make is fully, wholly, at one with its motivation, denying the humanity that made it. We are not God who inveighs power directly into reality. We are humans who have motivations, and then define outcomes. Not the other way around.

We create scale.

Craft: Beyond Building

August 4, 2021

We speak, but we also write poetry. We whistle, but symphonies resound. We can eat a protein bar or a seven course meal. Our needs do not limit our desire.

That is true of making things. The places of instinct, the nest, the burrow, the anthill, do everything needed, they solve the problem, but they only answer the questions that have been there, and will be applied no matter what changes.

Until a few hundred years ago, humans made through builders, who thought, created things far beyond instinct and answered problems far beyond safety and function. These things are human things, intricate functions, cost, evolving technologies and, yes, delight.

Our hands defined us, but our minds cannot be contained, more than make, we created. We added unnecessary complexities, criteria, even fully silly extrapolations. We made Beauty. We made delight. But we made it, it did not make itself.

We can see beyond now and what has been. It is a death sentence of unmet resolutions, hopes even needs. Humans can envision what has not been, what is unknown, even unknowable. We have the same basic parts as all living things, but we are different because we create beyond response.

We make things.

Defying gravity is temporary, defeating the environment is always an adaptation, but architecture efforts those simple goals and asks for more. We want what we do to extend who we want to be. That is the humanity of architecture.

That is craft. Not simply making things that stand up and protect, that are even elegantly simple or complex. Craft is the knowing application of technology, dexterity, and materials to make things that go beyond our needs and enter the world of our hopes.

There are different nutritions. Calories are needed and water and junk food can give us those. But we can also nourish and grow. We can feed desire, father than have it indict our insufficiency. We can make things in ways that are not outcomes, but fully manifest our motivations, our values, even the unnecessary joys of creativity that make poems, symphonies and soufflés.

We can make architecture.

But to do that, we need to fully control how we want to make it, but how we make anything effects what we make. If we can devote to understanding process as well as product, I think we can make things that go beyond outcomes and fully reflect motivations.

Outcomes are inevitable. The anthill is an outcome. But motivations can live and grow and be manifest outside the hips an mind. That is Craft. The knowing application of physical realities with evolutions of the way we know how to build we can change our methods by reveling get in out motivations first, outcomes second.

The size does not matter. A doorknob or a skyscraper, everything built benefits when the designer knows the Craft of what is to be made. The technologies are fully interchangeable, but the passion, devotion and expertise of knowing how to make things is not faked or mimicked. And the only way to gain authority is to fail and admit ignorance.

What we want in architecture may be a product, but the most effective, inspiring, delightfully products come from our humanity, not from the catalogue if outcomes that is offered to us. To do that, creation has to be based in craft, of any short.

Whether electrons, splinters, polymers, rocks, chemicals, – Anything – the actual tools of Craft are irrelevant to creativity. But knowing the realities of whatever tools are needed is absolutely central to making anything. Passion, devotion and work lead to skill, skill leans to more effort, more understanding and in the end, Beauty.

It is not “technology” or “building” it is adding the human element that makes Craft. The means and methods are crucial, but not their typologies. All Craft is Human. All Architecture is Human, too.

Context: The Cauldron

August 3, 2021

We are all somewhere. None live solely in our minds, or on the glowing screen you are seeing here. We all have a context, an origin point, a place. Humans are not satisfied with instinct, they create. Everything is made in a place. That place is where the needs and desires of those who wish to make something employ the human creativity it takes to make anything.

I think each place, each context – it’s people, culture, topography, climate, geology, even funding and legalities – is a cauldron. What is to be cooked has two parts: the need/hope for what is desired and the spice of human creativity. That recipe is cooked in that cauldron in every thing we make.

What is cooked can be tasteless and bland, even disgusting, or it can be so spiced as to be unpalatable but to all but a few. Or the food that results bastes the it in function and elevates it’s delight and hunger by its spice. The human spice. But you cannot cook without a cauldron.

When architects create, they often have two approaches: “Go along to get along.” where what is here now determines what will be, or, conversely, “My way or the highway.” Where where we are has nothing to do with where we will be.

Denial or Mimicry is literally the mind of a two year old.

“No!” Is often the first or second word used by our brains. Between those rejections, children live in a world where familiarity and comfort is virtually central to existence.

We are not two year olds, and architects do not create things solely for two year olds. Making things cannot deny context, but if we Xerox it, it is not creativity, it is mimicry.

There are always a place where we make things.

And when we make things we deal with what is there.

No matter how different the needs are from what is there.

Context can be social, vernacular, but it is transcendentally the environment of where we create. Political, legal, climatic, geographic, funding, materials, technology all, every one, should have an impact on what we create. But the land comes first.

We cannot deny the way the land is shaped, how water that is around it flows, and what the soil is under it. But we often do not judge buildings by those arcane factoids that are the essence of design generation. We often just see the results, the outcomes of our making.

We can try, unendingly, to void the past, pretend that the existing realities of the places we build, its population, it’s climate, it’s topography, even its culture, are simply to be transformed by our genius. The Guggenheim Museum does that, but the wall of buildings it pieces are necessary to create its beauty. Seldom does denial of what is there when we think of making things more than simply an insult or willful ignorance. When we wish away context, much of what the thing we build will only be for the designer, who seldom lingers.

But if we simply see what exists, replicate it, cleverly adapt new to what is there now, following what is there now, but do not create, we beg the reality of our humanity. We do not eat one food, listen to one music, even speak one language. Humans are a quilt, not a tapestry.

Every addition to every landscape of building lives with it. Is the result a marriage or a fight? Is it a dance or an army of unified marchers, thoughtless and following? It cannot be either, because humanity is neither by rote or by explosion, we create, we should not fear or deny.

Unless we see what is there, we deny it. And denying reality is simply not possible.

Context is not about gravity or time, because context has our humanity fully subsumed in its reality. The intensely private, isolated place is somewhere, used by someone, and nothing stays in the designer’s mind if they are an architect, it gets built.

If we want to be here, now, and make for a place, people, culture and in the environment, we cannot wish them away. And if we see the world as it is built, replicate the patterns, designs and design of those who are long dead, our work becomes the walking dead, not a living extension of who we are.

Context is hard to deal with in architecture because it is neither the raw food to be eaten, the need, nor the added spice of our human creativity to make that food sing. It is the caldron of context that contains both the food and the spice, cooks both and what architecture is is served from.

History: The Other Gravity

August 2, 2021

Every second passes, and there was a before, now and after. Unrelenting. Unchanging. On every thing we see, hear, taste and touch. Time is universal. It is so pervasive, so overwhelming, that we often simply ignore it.

We want to live forever. We want to freeze time. We revel in the past, we want the past to disappear. We are terrified of the future, we are fully impatient to have the now be what is to come. And we are full on transfixed with death, when we allow ourselves to think about it.

What other force is so over-arching, constant, brutally impossible to overcome? Gravity.

Gravity is what architects are tasked to manipulate every day. Structural projection is not just for whole buildings, gravity is part of every piece set into every construction. Architects live through gravity.

But architects are either dismissive of history, or are completely controlled by it. Architects have evolved two orthodoxies, often mutually exclusive. Both fully ignore the reality of time. Either history is tantamount to intellectual dishonesty, sentimentality, or just laziness in uncreative mimicry, or it is the Truth, the unquestioned reality of what has been and survived judgment, history is the essence of beauty.

This binary: Traditional and Modern as twin powers of mutual Good and Evil – set in opposition, in contradistinction, set against each other to form an unavoidable life defining aesthetic devotion is sophistry.

Trying to design a building without understanding history is like trying to design a building without gravity. Trying to freeze the past in the present for the future is like pretending time is not real. The adolescent desire to find Orthodoxy is as human as any religion. It denies our humanity, but in architecture it denies the unavoidable truths of every part of our lives lived in the world’s of gravity and time.

There is another reality, a human reality that fully revels in the essential realities of time and gravity. Humans have senses that defy the natural state of every other sentient being. We have motivations beyond survival, and we have define outcomes beyond ourselves. This is one reason is the synthesis of what makes us human.

Why do we care about the motivations of our aesthetics to the point that the evolved aesthetic orthodoxies make the differences between them into heresies, where “Truth” (or “Lie”) in motivation is absolute? I think that we are scared of being “wrong”. Being “wrong” is fatal in an internet era that fuels any differences into near instant judgment. Validation or invalidation has the depth of a fact-check that can only perceive outcomes, not motivations. 

Trying to perceive aesthetics without understanding motivations and relying on the singularity of outcomes puts architecture in the place of the “Dark Matter”. We can see outcomes, but cannot know motivations. If 95% of our understanding is based on outcomes, when 95% of what we judge is based on motivations only a faith-based interpretation is possible.

I think it is time to know that our motivations are fact. What we perceive and feel, how we respond is as factual as the 5%, our outcomes, that we can measure. We may never crack the code of the 95% of the “dark” universes of matter and energy, but we can know ourselves. If we deny our humanity and judge architecture by the measurables alone, when we are the sole creator of what we judge, then we lose the reality of what architecture is: human creation.

I see the human need to define aesthetics as being as essential as the fully embedded reality of music in our common outlook, despite being completely unnecessary to our survival.  Just like our need to project “The God Particle” as a key to ending faith by seeking verified proof in fact, there are realities that exist in our humanity that defy the mathematical or calculable validation and justification that academic understanding wants.

I think Time and Gravity need to be understood before aesthetics and technology. They are not taught as fundamental, they are taught as things we learn to avoid, to manipulate to control. We do not control Time and Gravity, they control us.