Friday, December 31, 2010

The Universal Constant?

In Arthur C. Clarke's novel The Last Theorem mankind is threatened with extinction at the hands of highly evolved aliens.  Eventually, however, the aliens absorb our notion of The Golden Rule and come to embrace this maxim as the great constant that should apply throughout the universe.  For me "do unto others…" is a moral and ethical constant applying to the existence of life itself – life in all its forms.  I believe that except for the luck of the draw I might just as easily have been born a salamander, a snake, or a cow.

For most of us any sense of relationship with other species is just about nonexistent – we are just woefully uninformed about the other life forms around us. How many of us can name even a handful of our native plants or animals? Very few – although most of us can easily rattle off the titles of numerous TV sit-coms including the names of the cast. It's difficult to have empathy for what you neither know nor understand but I think we would be better off in the long run if we had the humility to think of ourselves as a species among many species (rather than as us versus everything else). The proposition that the plant and animal kingdoms were placed here only to serve us doesn't even deserve a comment.

About the only constant we can interpret from observing life on earth is "systems that work survive." This is representative of the complex web of millions of interrelated life forms that come and go as they respond to ever changing environments. But something very different is taking place these days. Our newly acquired planetary dominance coupled with our exploding numbers has brought about a new age with new ways to provide food for ourselves – we have moved away from biodiversity and towards huge doses of monoculture. Not just our crops – our meat too now comes primarily from penned or caged animals that are born into the world for the sole purpose of providing us sustenance. For now the system is working in spite of its numerous problems – nevertheless it just doesn't feel right…

Human dominance implies human accountability and it is time for "systems that work survive " to receive an update.  How about a touch of humanity?  How about a touch of The Golden Rule (the ethical code of reciprocity)?  If our morality is limited only to each other then what can we expect if we one day encounter superior aliens that may very well not be familiar with such a moral/ethical standard?  In time perhaps someday we will find a way to better share the planet with its other species.  Then we will be able to show our visitors a world order based on what really could be the universal constant of "do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Monday, November 29, 2010

About the Header Images

Those familiar with my background probably know the significance of the contrasting header images above.  For the rest of you I would like to offer a few words of explanation:  The paving of the Los Angeles River during my youth had a profound impact on me and the direction my life and work would take.  It was an example loud and clear of how we all too often destroy the life-giving qualities of a place in the name of progress.  This turned me against staying in Los Angeles and becoming an urban architect – instead I sided with nature and began a small rural practice that could direct the reshaping of the landscape much less aggressively while allowing plenty of time for reflection.  Now, four decades later, I continue that resolve.  The header images represent the on-going struggle between my efforts to preserve nature and my hand in converting her into human habitat.

Although these days seem to have more time for reflection than I might like, I feel good that almost all of our projects have been unique and thoughtful responses to their circumstances.  While many of these have been natural environments, we have also created numerous urban, suburban and interior projects, both residential and commercial. In fact, it's really the circumstances that are the source of inspiration with much of the conceptualization actually occurring on the site itself – not under the lights and ceiling of our studio.  Responding to the unique features of the site, with a constant eye on sun and wind, always suggests innovative solutions far removed from the ubiquitous box with a visually heavy top-hat like roof.    

Nearly every project causes some destruction of its site – my goal is to minimize the destruction and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.  It is discouraging to see thoughtless development springing up around me with so many missed opportunities – missed because someone's vision was so narrow they just couldn't see clearly or perhaps because they just didn't care or work hard enough. The Los Angeles River is a classic example of this kind of shortsightedness. The river was a unique source of life, habitat, and energy and Los Angles had the chance to feature a river park meandering through it!  This opportunity was ignored in lieu of a quick-fix (albeit needed) flood control channel and now, fifty years later, the city is trying to restore some of the river's natural habitat.  What a shame – what a waste – what a legacy.

26th Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River by David Kimbrough

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Beginning

I hope to make an entry early each month – it may be a drawing (s), a reaction to some current event, or perhaps a heartfelt discussion of an issue dear to me.  Whatever it is I hope it will be pithy, provocative, and provide insight into some of the values and ideas that underpin our work.

For this first entry I am showing a pair of drawings I recently did – and which can soon be seen at Al Forster's 1043 Gallery at The Ranch Center.  They were done with pen and India ink and were executed with little pre-composition – the imagery tending to evolve during the drawing process itself. Some of the things that cross my mind from time to time I believe are worth sharing and so am initiating this journal.