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End of the Age of Editors: The Internet As Reformation

November 10, 2021

Before the Christian Reformation 500 years ago the church was the editor of western civilization’s relationship with God. Martin Luther was just a human who saw beyond the institution that tried to define God for him, and everyone else. For Luther, and me, faith is intimately universal. Direct relationship transforms understanding.

There is a parallel happening this moment in architecture, music, art, writing and journalism. There is a direct, free and instant ability that a vast majority of those in the Western World have to connect. The advent of the smart phone, not even 15 years ago, put the world in the hands of each of us. That connection to everyone, everywhere, instantly, nearly free is ending the era of editors that prescribed what we could (or would not) see.

There are times when technology happens, and humans change. Machines not only made more things cheaper, they ended jobs and exploded cities. Transportation beyond our legs of the legs of the horses we used allowed for remote food and creation of those things the machines were making. We ended subsistence farming and making much of what we used.

Now, in architecture, the end of editors has meant that architects can now simply project who they are and thousands see it, sometimes millions, with no editor, press, magazine, galleries, university or institution to validate its worth. Architecture to the culture has just become what it is to the world we each live in: unfiltered experience.

Where did a century of editing the architecture we see come from?

Since photography distilled buildings into Architecture the tiny number of fine artists of Taste determined what anyone could see. Where once an etching or painting created a picaresque sense of what a building was, the clear, stark, often distilled fine arts images of architecture were the cutting edge of technology used to define a human art, the art of making buildings.

The brave new art of early fine arts photography simply loved images of abstraction – and in architecture that meant the similarly cutting edge sense that context, craft, ornament, even material were distracting noise in the Truth of Architecture.

Soon editors, gallery directors, universities and institutions used these fantastic photographs to show a traditional world what architecture could be, if the world had their insight. Architects loved the vision of an art detached from all the trappings of the vernacular, hidebound, pat answers of type and style our culture had applied to a new thing, built now, freshly invented – architecture.

So these gatekeepers, the Editors of Architecture became the lens through which everyone saw what had value in design. Whatever was not the new way was simply unseen in the journalism, publication, exhibits and gatherings of those who determined what Architecture was.

Anyone can now take exquisite photographs, videos, even create Virtual Reality renderings of the unbuilt, available at the click of an icon.

Humans change humanity sometimes.

In 1500, and for a thousand years before that, the Western world was completely enmeshed with God as the fundamental reason for everything we saw. That meant that an industry of religion had a huge importance and market. That meant that God, Jesus, could be accessed through that industry. Often exclusively.

Jesus was one of us, some of us still think he is one of us, but his humanity was less important to the industry of religion than its exclusive, correct and necessary connection from everyone to God through their knowledge and insight. Just like architecture and editors in the 20th century.

That precarious human creation of exclusivity of access to the universality of God and the humanity of Jesus simply could not stand. In one century, the monopoly of religion ended. The way to be with God was not through any human other than Jesus for many.

That was the Reformation.

Even that direct connection is failing the humans who helped it to happen. In the coming disconnect between religion and faith, there is a very real lesson in this new era of universal access to the infinite. The very human reality of architecture can now be seen, felt, experienced with interpretation, selection, judgment. Architecture can simply be seen by anyone as offered by those who created it.

That Reformation is in mid formation. Magazines still try to have relevance to smaller audiences. Awards programs are exploding in the internet Reformation. Even Zoom tries to confer legitimacy at low cost when institutions select those worthy to share what they do in the instant, free, worldwide platform of the Internet.

But like the Gutenberg Bible, the Internet has broken thru the control of the High Priests of Architecture, and allowed humans to search, rather than editors to control.

The results may be odd for a century, but for 500 years the Reformation connected humanity to what some thought was privileged, judged, access to what they could not control.

Things will change.

For No Reason

November 1, 2021

It was the summer of 1959.

I know this because my father always had August off. Every New York City lawyer did, then. My father had a fully travelable family, three children, me the youngest soon or just at 5: two well dressed, cropped others, the eldest just 15, and his snappy wife.

Time for a family trip in our new, used, 1957 Fleetwood Cadillac. With an electronic eye to dim the brights at night, those inverting triangular Windows, and enough floor space that I could play with my trucks on the wall-to-wall carper as we crushed down the highway and my parents smoked Kent cigarettes.

First, to East Aurora, New York, my mother’s ancestral home, to see her Dad, Not well, and her mom, a smart former Roaring ’20’s girl, pretty snappy, herself. We stayed at an Inn, was it called “The Roycrofters”? (An arts group, whose founder, Elbert Hubbard, may, or may not, have had a scandalous moment with my mom’s mom.)

In any event, back there, in East Aurora’s, and my soon 5 year old Lind, my father was, as usual, screaming at my mother after dinner, where alcohol was fully inveighed, According to my sister I went to the bathroom down the hall, awoken from my sleep, and declared to my siblings “Dad is being ferocious!”.

We went to sleep, then drove on to Toronto, to meet the three siblings of my father’s long dead mother. We had dinner at the house of the two spinster Hill sisters. They all talked, smoked, were delighted by the full cow’s tongue entire, that my wide eyes fully scorched upon, especially when the farthest delicate tip was expected carved of its standing glory set upon Greenstein with a side of goggling aspic.

This terror was soon matched by the calm, even, often detached recounting if my father’s 5 years living in Toronto, with his aunts. His uncle Hill was there, two, and at one point he looked at my Dad, and when my father asked why he spent those years, when he was between one and six in Toronto, when his father was in a Brooklyn, his uncle simply said, “We are pretty sure that Lucy (his mom) died while having an abortion. She never wanted to have another child with you Dad.”

Perhaps it was the death of my father’s father the year I was born, or that he was simply a nasty man who buried all three of his wives, but my father returned to Brooklyn at 6 to be reunited with what he thought was his mom, and then have two other siblings. At 16, he cycled home from high school and found his mother, or so he thought, in a game of tears, where she blurted it out that she could not pretend to be his birth mother, that his mom was dead,

I do not think my father knew how his mother died, in the effort to limit her connection to his dad, until that evening in Toronto.

The Hill dusters then went in to add, “Georgie was always wandering off. We could not find him for hours. We came to look for him on the docks in Late Ontario, near our house, and once when we found him, he said ‘I was looking for my Mum.'”

He was the age I was, theme, sitting and listened no with eyes as wide as those looking at the cow tongue.

Why do I remember this?

Why did this happen at all?

Why were the kids there to hear it?

The break pint in a young man’s life, revealed not only to him, at 50, but to his family. The reason he was “ferocious” for the next 27 years. The reason my siblings were who they became, my mother cooed, and I simply watched.

Why did this happen?

After 60 years I can only think, God was opening a life to itself, and now, that life to my life. I came to understand the tragedies, the anger, the damage of a man whose triumphant life after Toronto was only matched by a broken recognition of his own pain, that he avoided with alcohol.

There is no reason in some things. No rational typical truths that make sense. Bringing up devastation so simply, in front of children to a man they must have known was ultimately broken by the simple facts they told, was unnecessary.

An remembering them when maybe five, completely not reasonable.

God is unreasonable, because He is not made by our reason, He just is.

I understand that I do nor understand. Is that enough?

NEW WAYS HOME

October 23, 2021

GREAT PODCAST https://soundcloud.com/wpkn895/home-page-radio-new-ways-home/sets

The last year has seen the Real Estate Industrial Complex on Blast: Sell, Sell, Sell – a seller’s market, a housing consumer nightmare. Costs, always high in northeast grew far higher. The traditional ways of making a home, owning a home, even envisioning where a home could be were thrown out, in favor of a crazy bubble.

The way we think of homes is not static, homes are the direct extension of us, each of us, and collectively as humanity. So there are alternatives to how we envision how we live, where we live and what we live in – our homes.

Three guests are deeply involved in how homes are created, and can be part of Home Page this week to tell how they are working to open up the housing market, and respond to how the world has changed, and will change. Joining us is:

Pennie Garber is a licensed architect located near Staunton, Virginia. She has owned and operated a small architectural firm for the last 20 years. She is now working with a business incubator to build a new company, a benefit corporation called Plans for Good, that can hopefully address the needs of the families she hasn’t yet met who currently don’t have the resources to own their own home.

Susan Ingham is a licensed architect practicing in Seattle, Washington. Her firm, KASA Architecture specializes in residential design.  The main focus of her work is to try to create environments with beauty. She is a founder of the Building Beauty program in Sorrento, Italy, and teaches a difference way of creating home design, a way of the place and person, not the product.

Ben Ledbetter is an architect grew up in the South, received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Auburn University then went Harvard University, where he received a Master in Architecture degree Ben now directs the architectural studies program of the Wesleyan University Art Department, teaching architecture as well as drawing courses. Ben is part of a new program with Yale to create homes.

 

Motivation & Outcomes

October 23, 2021

A simple post revealed how we think about buildings.

On my way home yesterday the AIA Connecticut’s “Best Office Building” for over 50 employees from about 8 years ago had incredible light. I snapped a photo and posted it.

Immediately architects screamed “GOTCH’YA! LOW HOUSE! MCKIM MEAD AND WHITE!” And posted the smoking gun photo multiple times, never seeing the other joyous outings.

Um, no.

Sure, the chevron profile. But that’s about it.

So, once again, 2D outcomes over-road any interest in motivations. That is the way we have been conditioned to think, to design, to evaluate, to judge. I am, at that instant, a copycat, a pretender, a thoughtless mimic, doing a mediocre easy answer.

Well, this is the largest building in our town, over 20,000sf. It had a stringent, but flexible design code and zoning format. It is an “out building”, so:

Its height, mean grade to mean high roof had and extra height limit, it’s first floor had to be fully limited, here to about 1,000sf. A walk to the street had to be direct.

It is commercial, so it needed a lot of parking spaces. So we parked under it.

There was an aesthetic code of roof pitch, material and window type.

And voila, a 4 story building that fits. And, after 9 meetings with the Madison Advisory Council on Community Appearance we agreed to make a place.

Not a Low House.

With a street connection

With descendants

But no matter the months of design and thought, This Is The Low House

Despite a central public entry, parking under, horizontal banding, color, with sides of street facing intention, urban site planning, zoning fit and creating a civic place – this is a copy, because one profile is like another profile. No interest in “how” or “why” , just definition – just “what”. No thought, just reaction. No questions, just declaration. A single, hard, dismissal.

No, it’s the Low House.

Hatred In Architecture

October 21, 2021

Hate and the internet seems to be peaches and cream: a marriage made in heaven.

Politics is the screaming freak show of indictment, anger, accusation, insult and hyperbole, but that is not the limit.

Virtually anything anyone posts, says, or comments on anything and trolls can rise up out of anonymity and scream a fully livid scream of outrage, in righteous accusation over, well, anything. Last week IU wrote a completely benign 700 word piece on the early embrace of Modernism in the tweedy state of Connecticut. I was immediately berated for not including the racist laws of Connecticut and Nazi leanings of some of the architects that I referred to.

I said that was a terrific article, and should be written. I was then told that I was wrong in not including it, Others chimed in. A simple popular press piece became a forum of righteous indignation over my lack of sensitivity to the need to educate the world on antisemitism.

This attitude, of noble reaction against an oppressive or victimizing mainstream, of gaining control over powerful inhuman oppressors. The housing industry is fully flamed by Kate Wagner and McMansion Hell. But with no insult, shrill accusations or broader hate. Another wildly popular site “That’s It, I’m Architecture Shaming” randomly affords Facebook Friends to post images they hate. Often humorous, some even quite lovely, but no rancor or outrage beyond the image offered.

This spirit of righteousness creates hits, and justifies itself, creating its own truth in the passion of its advocacy. Of course there is some reality of every angry protest, but the extrapolation into worldwide conspiracies and unjust oppression of the victims of evil in our culture. But that is tame compared to Patrick Webb’s Facebook page. There, many times a day, the decorative plasterer posts images of nightmare development and architectural excess and says simply “This is Modernism”. Hideosities are full throated declared to be directly caused by the architecture Style of Modernism. Long screeds often follow of the literal evil of all but the ancient ways of living and making. It is a world view some have, but without the near hysteric state of hate for the world that has moved in larger interests of profit and power.

Rather that response to factual questions raised in the reactions, like every good political cite, on the internet those posting their anger summarily dismissive different perspectives as part of the conspiracy to subvert human dignity and beauty. Insults soon follow (to me, I never attack the messenger, just the message) like this exchange:

I expected nothing other than this sophistry, but the recent extension into create a worldwide boogeyman of Modernism is a natural result of the frustration and alienation many feel with the fresh sense of connection found in the internet. The tragedy is that this connection should promote dialogue and sharing, but as with politics, COVID and puppy videos, anger overwhelms.

Hate and fear found in the way a style of architecture takes an aesthetic and turns it into a symptom of the darkest parts of all humanity, ruining the world for the innocent. Absurd, if it was not sad.

Beating Against The Sunrise

October 14, 2021

Nov. 6 will have the latest sunrise this year. Dec. 21 will have the longest night.

How can that be?

We want to control. The early morning dark is a full buzzkill. We control the clock, if not the sun. So let us pretend the sun rises earlier by changing the hour so our clocks say it is earlier for 6 weeks before the sun actually starts rising earlier, and the nights actually get shorter.

Why do we care?

Why do we need to “make the perfect be enemy of the good” when we are fully imperfect, so what we do cannot be perfect? Would we faint if the real time of sunrise in Dec. 21 was the 8:17am it actually is? Why is 7:31am late enough that we need to pretend it’s 6:32am the next day?

The time we are given light changes whether we want to or not. Just like our life. I was diligent taking my booster inoculation, work out everyday, take 4 pills, and at some time, time will cease for me, despite every way I can make it go on.

Because we really do not control much. We just focus on the what we can define, in hopes that it reveals the power that we never had.

The Perversion of What We “Do”

October 10, 2021

We have all been at a gathering where the leader, the facilitator, says “Let’s get to work!”, or after some exercise says “Great Work!”. But we are not on our Peloton Bike, it’s a gathering. Those there are simply responding, sitting in comfort, viewing, listening and sharing – but they are described as “working”.

An actor says that performing in a play, living a life’s devotion, was “doing good work” and I think, what is work?

If it is a choice to do what we are doing, it is doing what you value, deeply, is that work? Is exertion a requirement of work? Am I working when I write this? If I watched the TV, instead of write this, am I not working?

We all “do” something, every minute of every day. But the desire to justify it makes what we do called “work” by some – that has been given the mantle of productivity, and thus worth.

I decided to teach for the first time in 30 years. “Decided” because I was offered a position, as I had been before, in other teaching places, rather than answer an ad. But that work was not substitutionary to my life’s other workings, it was additive to it. The reality is that doing this act was for me, doing the next thing in the mission of my life. It pays very little in money, but adds about 20 hours to the 60 hours every week that I do what I am called to do. It makes for 7 day weeks with every day being needed to do the things I choose to do.

If I choose to do what I value, is it “work”? Is is sacrifice?

No. Somehow it is all necessary. A full set of good things, but nothing triumphant.

Of course I attend meetings, create drawings, even make things, but my bosses are who hire me, directly, to help them – not procure a thing, but to Do a thing, together. Writing, or designing or teaching. I was not hired by a boss that I must please, I please my clients and myself in doing what I have to do to fulfill what I value.

Is that “work”?

Or is doing what we all Do, because we really cannot Do anything else. For me it is just following a mission that I am compelled to, that is not simply making money to survive. I know those who loath their jobs. I know those who love the money their job earns. I know most people enjoy their work, or what it affords and tolerate its imposition into the world they are making for themselves.

Shoeless Joe Jackson, in the movie “Field of Dreams”, says of baseball, his devotion, “Hell, I would do it for nothing.”

I do many things for no money. Like this. I expect nothing. I do not think much accrues to any benefit but expression. That is what I am compelled to do. I do not have a choice. No hobbies, no binge watching. I do eat too much, but basically only one meal a day.

Why do others need to describe doing what they value as “work”?

I cannot. I will, please God, get three articles to publishers today. Some will actually have a paycheck. Others do not. But these compulsions express what I have been given. It is a compulsion that costs but makes a life.

It is not work.

My life is about “doing”. But ascribing a work ethic to it, a regimen of dedication to some greater good, conspired to an end, dedicated to compensation is not this. For good or for ill.

1) Plan. 2) Section. 3) Elevation

October 9, 2021

In the dim past, some sage architect looked at me and said:

“There is one way to describe a building, one sequence. Plan. Section. Elevation. In that order. One defines the other. Once you start there then they all change each other.”

I came to realize that is the way you build, too. Layout the plan to the site and to itself. Then build up. Then make the exterior.

We are trained to see outcomes, and those outcomes in a world that judges in 2D is found in what should be the last leg of describing, then making, the outside, the elevations. Or many find solace in looking at the abstraction of floor plans and spotting error or virtue. Or we see a cross section – a frozen moment in the spaces of a place, and say either “Cool.” or “Eh.”

In about my 40th hire of an intern, this person in their ’30’s with experience in larger offices and a graduate degree from a good school of architecture, I offered this person a sketch of a plan and a section, dimensioned, noted, and fully walked thru the connection I had just made on those drawings. I hoped that in my day away that the hard lining of my scribbles would reveal the intern’s understanding. It did. The two drawings were separate and unequal, drawn independently from one another.

So I repeated the bromide, with finger declaration: “1) Plan. 2) Section. 3) Elevation.” In that order, one defining the next. Then noted that if drawn in that sequence, one drawing projected from the other, there could be no error, but discovering those errors that I had made in making my sketches.

After this calm description, a deer at 2am faced me.

After a full redlining of the process together, the results were still at 2am, in the dark.

No demeaning, no commentary, just explanation.

The intern resigned the next day “To take the licensing exam.”

The creative process learned in school was simply “IDEA!” In any manifestation, then description of the “IDEA!”. Because it is not a building, it is an idea. Of course you start with ideas, but to make a place you have to understand what you are making. But rigor in translation is hard to accept. So the translation that enables those who build to understand your “IDEA!” is often not possible.

And the “IDEA!” suffers too, because in defining what is made, realities and opportunities are revealed beyond the “IDEA!” And what is made is better – and makable – versus the untold unbuilt things that architects lament, cursing others’ inability to see their gifts, because of profit, fear or, really that who makes what you describe is just not as smart as you are.

That disconnect sometimes happens, but many “IDEA!”‘s simply cannot be built without untenable cost compensation, or user adaptable, or simple construct-ability because the creator only understands the “IDEA!”.

This intern, mid-30’s did not, and would not see that buildings are made by description, not by ideas. That is why interns learn. Or not.

That intern will be licensed. That architect will not know what a building can be. That willful ignorance will make the others who do what I do less valuable.

There are doctors who are the first opinion that gets rejected. Lawyers who lose cases, even clerics who worship themselves first and who made them not-so-much. I have known them. And I have known architects who simply know ideas. And pictures. And defendable rationales, but do not, and will never, know how to build things. They often find terrific builders who do, and understanding clients and make things.

But those things are rationalizations. They will have a great idea, from an angle, frozen, and that may be enough.

But not for me.

Acorns & Allergies

October 4, 2021

We control nothing.

In this odd season where The Plague is lustily exploding (or not) the seeding of the biosphere seems to be on overdrive. The maple trees have huge clusters of seeds about to whirligig down. The pines have crowns of cones and the oak trees are assaulting our home with an unending pelting of acorns,

And my nose is a battlefield.

In any given hour my nostrils are arid chasms of air passage, or, in minutes, completely sealed in goo, that seems stuffed beyond full to overflowing. Then clear in 20 minutes.

We can wear masks. I can toxify my body with Afrin. But The Plague and allergic responses are not deterred, we just feel better.

These months have seen the loved die. Some unexpectedly, some after long and wonderful lives. None by Plague or allergies.

Amid all the care and fear, the acorns simply bash away. It is their year. We had a good century between Plagues, filled with world wars, a Great Depression, landing on the Moon and the Internet. A good run.

But every year the allergies afflict the bodies that care. Others do not. The same sex byproducts are breathed in and out and life goes as usual on for most, like the Plague. Not for the sufferers. But there is no vaccination or booster shot for allergies, only chemical mitigation of the symptoms that create its own disease of fatigue and ick.

Nature is us. We are there with everything else. Like the acorns we seem to infect the world with pelting carbon that then affects everything else. Oh, I am sure we will nobly strive to suppress greenhouse cases and wear our masks. I know I do. But the force of this biosphere is not manmade or under our design. So nothing, in the end, is under our control.

We are the victims of the engine of life that made us, made us to think when life happens we are victims.

I am not a victim. I am just alive.

A Lack Of Earning Potential

September 22, 2021

Three months ago, friends, who moved to New England to be near us, joined us for perhaps our millionth dinner together.

“Your begonias are out of control!” My dear friend noted, herself a great killer of plants.

“It’s a strange year” I replied.

And it was. The tomatoes that delivered unending salads last year were oddly colored, shaped and infested with some ailment that split their skins before ripening. One new rhododendron was fully enraptured at its new setting, the other died a silent and sad death. The grass seed, planted 38 years ago, loves being mowed every 3 weeks, rather than two (I have been busy).

The full frontal assault of an insane acorn crop from our 260 year old white oak has bombarded our house, causing PTSD damage to my wife’s psyche as she works under a large skylight that magnifies the barrage into a drum solo.

Despite all efforts, life is not under our control. Even if it was, no amount of hope, promise or expertise earned the life that is, in fact, fully out of control all around us. Billions get vaccinated, huge human behaviors modified and the Covid Virus is having as good a year as my begonias.

But explosive growth is only one uncontrollable in the windows to our incapacity.

Our dear begonia loving friend, who settled here to join us for 30 years of dinners, went to play tennis. Her life of mental and physical fitness was a model for me – my own BMI and thought production fully wanting.

In the delight of a pickup tennis doubles match, our friend had a aortic dissection. Part of the pathways taking most of her blood simply broke. No one could have scanned it, no lifestyle change could have prevented it, no cure exists when it happens outside a hospital.

The lack of control was fully realized in minutes.

My car simply stopped going faster than 15 miles per hour last week. Humans made that car. I am one of them, and know others that can control the car. In a week, one of its central powering parts, one of four pistons was reconstituted. Humans had made the piston, humans could fix the piston.

We did not make us. We do not understand how or why why or even what we are, but we are as real as any car, or begonia, or aortic dissection.

I want to earn the fruits of my efforts. I want to get what I want, not as a gift, but as a transaction. My effort leverages my desires. But I cannot earn life.

Life is the last fully inscrutable gift that defies control. The least of us can last for a century, the boldest athlete can cease to live in a second. We are the same in our incapacity. We are here, like my car, and we want to do more than eat acorns and sleep. So we play tennis, ride our cars, plant our tomatoes.

But what we start, we do not finish.

Because we only start our actions, and finish those, because that is what we have been given the capacity to do. I wish that there was a human-based alternative to God. I wish Jesus was a great scientist who created life for his fellow humans, and we could codify and expand his human insights and production.

No, Jesus knew that we, He, created only his acts. The engine of His, and our, acts are not those found in cars, but they are engines. Of insane complexity, with zero rationale, just here, now. And then not here.

God is not a mechanic that fixes our engines. We, the engines He created, just need to know that we have been given this. We are not owed a thing, even the things that we lose. I cannot understand how my car was repaired but I could learn it, fix cars and control the things humans make. I cannot know how my friend slipped out of life, beyond the trenchant Dr. Internet distillations of the mechanics, but I can understand that I cannot understand.

Having faith in meanings we cannot define is simply not me. I want to know the whys and meanings of all these acorns and split tomatoes, I am confident that I could fully research and feel comfy that I know the ephemeral causalities of those things, and Covid19, but it is unknowable why all of life has been given.

And why it ends.

I am left, again, with the God that never leaves, like a bad house guest. I would like to have the pat comfort of earning my definition of the undefined, but no, I do not have that earning capacity.

Sent from my iPad