Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Before Dylan

The Capris                                                                               The Six Teens

At one point in my teenage life I thought about becoming a disc jockey and I seemed to have a sense for discovering the very coolest records of the time.  This began in the late 50s when I was in junior high school, and for the first time became aware of music meant for my young ears.  Records were being played at parties and on the radio and before long I acquired a three speed record player and made the first of many trips to the local record shop when I bought three 45s:  Come and Go with Me (The Dell Vikings), Little Darlin’ (The Diamonds), and School Days (Chuck Berry).  Before long I was buying and collecting all the coolest sounds.  As my interest grew I learned more about rock and roll and rhythm and blues (aka Doo Wop) through other avid collectors and disc jockeys like Hunter Hancock, Art Laboe, and the Duke of Wax.
The songs that attracted me most were not the popular fare of the times, but rather those that leaned strongly towards simplicity and with limited or no background accompaniment.  Uniqueness and howling were plusses, but safe, studied pieces were anathemas.  If Perry Como, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Pat Boone, Bobby Rydell, et al came on the radio the channel was immediately changed, but this didn’t happen much on the programs we listened to.
This musical niche clearly emanated primarily from the black communities throughout the country.  The more obscure the songs the better as long as they elicited that anti-mainstream, simple teenage love, edgy sound.  They were “bitchin’.” By the early 60s Motown began dominating the youthful record industry and to this day I resent Motown music for it.
Many of the internet lists of the best Doo Wop songs (we called them R & B) just don’t make sense to me – they seem like they’ve been assembled by folks who didn’t really live the music at the time.  In the Still of the Night (The Five Satins), Earth Angel (The Penguins), Maybe (The Chantels), The Closer You Are (The Channels), et al are firmly entrenched at or near the top of any serious Best 100 Doo Wop list, but I want to give credit to some of the great songs that have mostly remained on the periphery of the popular charts.  Here are a mere half dozen examples of the numerous vocal groups’ records (with You Tube links) I would play if I were DJing oldies:

God Only Knows (The Capris)
            A Casual Look (The Six Teens)
           The Way You Look Tonight (The Jaguars)
            Deserie (The Charts)
6 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, 1 Hour (Sharps) 
           100 Years from Today (Alice Jean and The Mondellos)
Perhaps one day I will share some male and female vocalists, couples, and instrumentals…

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Interview with Al Forster (part two)

Earlier this year I interviewed Al Forster at The Sea Ranch Lodge. This is the second part of that interview.
O.        I have an age old question that artists are asked – How do you know you are done? 
A.        I couldn’t tell you but I know when I’m done.  I know now to put the brush down or the pencil down sooner than I used to know.  I used to overwork things but now there is a certain point, I guess every artist knows that you do that last thing and you know it’s the last thing you need to do.  Now if I have a drawing hanging around for a while I’ll come back the next day and fuss around…nothing big or bold usually, just little refinements…except in case of that sky! It’s something you can’t put your finger on but you know – you’d better know…
O.        Tell me something about not only water color, but color pencil, pastel, charcoal- these days there are very limited mediums used in architectural illustration but there are many mediums that could and have been used as you look back through time.  Any comments about pastel or charcoal?
A.                There are some illustrators that still use pastel and charcoal and they tend to be a lot more suggestive, expressive, and less detailed, less technical; - they tend to be used in cases where you’re trying to make a gestural drawing but they’re not the right components for a drawing that needs to have detail to it.  Now colored pencil is a different story – colored pencil has a firm enough point and is usually used in conjunction with graphite pencils so you can usually get that detail.
O.        You use Prismacolor almost entirely, but why don’t you use Verithin which seems like it would be handy for some of the small details.
A.                When I need  sharp point I can get it with Prismacolor – just using my electric eraser and flattening it out – shaping it on a piece of paper.
O.        Shaping what?
A.        A good point.
O.        I’ve never heard of such a thing.
A.        Yeah, I roll the pencil on a piece of paper and get a sharper edge or use a chisel edge – it’s easier for me to just stick with one brand, one style of pencil, and make that work.  I’ve gotten used to it over the years, I know the colors, I know how they work – I know when to sharpen and I know when not to.  I like the slightly waxier feel of the Prismacolor pencils.
O.        To what degree are you working by feel versus a predetermined, more systematic approach?  It’s a combination of the two I assume.
A.        Yeah, it is a combination of the two – the systematic is probably like 75% and seat of the pants is more like 25%, but it’s a very important 25%.  There are a series of processes and steps I go through when I’m doing a rendering – they have different applications for each drawing, but essentially you do the same thing over and over again.  Then you reach that point where the steps are done and you’re off on your own making decisions piece by piece, and that’s the 25% that’s really important.  Adding darks is hugely important.  I’ll work a drawing for a while, but then you have to establish the darks because these are the things that really make a drawing successful.
O.        Do you tend to add darks later than sooner – some people might work just the opposite  and start off with the darks.
A.        If you start off with darks it is highly likely that they won’t be nearly dark enough, or as dark as you hoped they would be as the drawing begins to develop.  The white of the watercolor paper is a given so you start from there as white and start to establish the light to medium range.  That will begin to tell you how to establish your darks.   I start off with the mediums and lights knowing full well that many will disappear so I have to start darker than I thought I was going to, but at some point fairly soon I’ll start to introduce some darks because I need to establish both ends of the scale.  And I may even go back and darken some of those darker, but at least it gives me a range, a setting.
O.        I can’t help but introduce history.  Why did people like Carlos Diniz come on with such a flourish and then seem to go away – and what about black and white?
A.        I think people like Carlos Diniz – and who are the other renders I’m trying to think of who used a lot of zipatone and like drawings…
O.        Jacoby?
A.                Helmut Jacoby – the drawing style of the time was tempra – the tempra rendering was something that was being done over and over again and along came these guys at the right time and I think people were ready to see some line detail, some fuzziness and looseness that you just didn’t have is those old tempra renderings and it was just the right place at the right time – it was just that historical moment that allowed  a couple of people to strike out and say this is what we want to do and people warmed up to it and liked it and everybody else started to play catch up.  J. Henderson Barr came along with a style that was more controlled pencil and he sent people in a direction too – he spun off a whole series of renderers who did that sort of style – one of the things that happened to me – I was doing colored pencil on mylar in my early rendering days and there was a big competition – the Escondito City Hall Competition – there must have been 150 entrants and I did one firm’s presentation and the winning firm was named Papa and they got a guy that did wonderful watercolors with just enough detail and his drawings just blew everybody away – they were in another league – I went to the presentation and I was embarrassed to see mine in front of all these other drawings – and I looked at his I said this is what everybody is going to want – I’d better get off the dime – I hadn’t done it in a long time so I started to do watercolor again and that was the starting point for me and it was just one of those situations when it was the right time and watercolor renderings started to take off -  Dave Purcell was his name – Purcell is the renderings.
O.        Do you remember seeing hardline drawings made for Kawneer advertisements by Angelikis and Bailey.
A.        I don’t know the name, I might know the imagery if I saw them…
O.        Do you think hand rendering is all but gone – it would seem so?
A.        I think its days are numbered, yeah.  I belong to a group called The American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI) and every year we have competition submittals of work we’ve done over the last year or two and there is a selected group for a traveling exhibit and then awards are given  – there are 50 or 60 out of 400 or 500 entries and there is a Hugh Ferris Award which is the top award, then each judge gives an award for their favorite – there is a sketch award, a digital award – but of these 50 or 60 there is a catalog that comes out every year with all these entrants  - it used to be that 80% were hand drawn when I joined in 1996 and now in 2015 there are just a handful of hand drawn renderings – a few of the digital renderers are people that have a real painterly quality   Dennis Allain is one that comes to mind – a real creative guy – several of the newcomers use computers  in a very painterly way – that’s nice to see – it’s not as tight and technical as it used to be – the shift has been almost a complete turn around – maybe 80% are digital now – and since there are so few of us that do hand drawings anymore it has to be on its way out.
O.        Does anything in particular come to mind about illustrators or your other work that I haven’t touched upon?
A.        I go through my office door and I come alive – I love doing what I do although it’s frustrating most of the time.  But I keep doing renderings because I keep hoping to do the perfect rendering and it never comes but if I don’t start the next one I’ll never get there so that’s one thing that drives me.  I keep opening that door every morning and hoping that this will be the day and it never comes and it probably never will.
O.        I thank you very much.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Interview With Al Forster

 Earlier this year I interviewed Al Forster at The Sea Ranch Lodge. I have edited the tape and  divided it into two parts. This is part one:

O:        Al is a fantastic architectural illustrator.  Give me some background on who you are and where you come from.
A.                I was born on the east coast but lived most of my life in California. Had a Navy father in WWII but his profession later was being a lawyer…moved to the Bay Area when I was in grammar school.  I think as far as getting me to where I am now you probably need to know I was the child of a crazy alcoholic parent –it was difficult to study and  I wasn’t a very good student – I didn’t pay very much attention to school and then I took a mechanical drawing class and it made a huge difference in the course of my life up until this point – all of a sudden it made sense to me.  I liked the act of drawing always, but solving and ordering mechanical drawings really gave me direction.  The instructor would call people around the board and say look at how Al did it – and I’d never had any praise for anything I’d done and he set me some tasks – I didn’t even have to finish the class – he gave me the task of going out and measuring for remodeling the school – it was all new to me to find some importance in what I did and what I could do – that headed me towards the study of architecture.  I was pushed by my grandfather – he knew I was more artistic than mechanical so he pushed me towards architecture.  I was going to join the Navy after high school because my grades weren’t very good but my dad applied to some colleges for me and I was eventually accepted by the University of Houston who had a good architecture program and that headed me in the right direction.  I remember being at college for the first day or two and I walked into the lobby of the architecture building and there was a presentation with models and illustration boards full of plans and sections with trees – I saw that and I knew I had arrived – I was in heaven – it was just the coolest thing to see and know that was where I was headed.
O.        So what did you do right out of school – or maybe you worked while you were in school?
A.                I worked while I was in school for a couple different firms.  My old habits came back. I partied too much – so after third year I dropped out. I lost my student deferment and went into the Navy and spent 2 years./  I had wanted to get into a computer drafting school, which I probably could have but wound up on a ship and did two tours in Vietnam. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I got out in San Diego and I came up to Sea Ranch because I’d known about it – I wanted to live here but I stayed in San Diego and worked to try to come up here and 27 years went by.  I started out doing design and supergraphics, a lot of architectural remodels and additions and more and more I found that rendering was the niche I wanted to pursue.
O.        So the rendering started once you were on your own rather than when working in an office?
A.                Yes, more when I was on my own because that’s what I wanted to get after.  I did drafting and rendering in offices, but once I was on my own I needed to develop some skills that were marketable and worthy.
O.        When you were working in an office were you not working as a designer so much?
A.        When I started in San Diego I got a job for a large interior design firm and I was the main presentation draftsman and renderer for 6 designers all on different projects and they would come to me and we were doing restaurants, malls, offices, and residential projects – I learned a lot – I had to do presentation drawings, technical drafting, renderings – I honed my skills there and then I broke away from them and started doing rendering, residential and commercial design, supergraphics, advertising art illustration on my own – anything and everything.
O.        A quick little aside here – you mentioned your father being an alcoholic and…
A.        It was my mother, not my father.
O.        I have noticed a number of architects who have had alcoholic parents and I wonder if you have any thoughts about that?  Is there any kind of link?
A.        I had to go inside myself for entertainment.  I couldn’t bring any friends by the house – it was just too risky and embarrassing…so I learned to make decisions and play and satisfy my own needs and I became pretty self-sufficient.  I’m not one to take lessons – I’m one to  figure out for myself and I think I end up knowing things more thoroughly than if I’d taken a lesson.  I was never very good at that…sitting in a classroom.  I usually like to figure things out for myself – and being self-sufficient I don’t believe in practicing watercolor – you sit down and you learn from your mistakes – it’s always been hollow to me when you practice – there’s no pay off, there’s no risk.
O.        I want to jump in with a few questions here.  I was commenting about that rendering that was in your office that was so unusual.  It had a gold sky on one side and an almost indigo blue sky on the other and had a definite quality about it that strikes one above and beyond the imagery that the drawing or painting is trying to communicate. It raises the question about illustration that are impressionistic or have an emotional quality – like certain Hugh Ferris drawings – does that kind of work have a place in architectural illustration – and for that matter were those Hugh Ferris drawings actually shown to a client or were they just done off in the studio for himself?
A.        I don’t know – I think one of the things I learned about rendering is that renderings are art – a painted art form – and once I got that in my head I realized that I could take some liberties and be a little more  …I tend to be too tight – I think it loosens me up a bit and allows me to get away from that technical perfection, although I’m still sometimes a lot tighter than I want to be – so I think architectural rendering – as opposed to art for art’s sake, you have a goal in mind – and a set of conditions it has to satisfy  - so it has to pass muster first and then it can explore the artistic and the artistic side can began to explain some of the technical pieces that have to be sorted out.
O.        Just as you asked me about my processes out on a site – will you take me through your processes – they seem quite precise although when you focus in on any one piece it begins to dissolve and becomes impressionistic.
A.              These days I’m usually sent a sketch-up model with perhaps 2 or 3 views or versions.
O.        Excuse me, are you talking about a computer program?  Ha, Ha, Ha…
A.                Mostly it has massing, not a lot of detail and if they allow me to add my input and say that I think this one would make a better rendering than that one – it becomes a base for the drawing.  I have in my mind a vision of what I want the final drawing to be and then I start to stage it – the entourage, the detail, the back grounds, and so at that point my vision jumps ahead as to what I want the color to look like – it’s not something I put into words…
O.        What do you mean “what you want the color to look like”?
A.        I begin to see how I want to paint the drawing and it’s not a script – it’s more of a fuzzy vision in my head – when I want   and how I want the building to jump and to resolve – where I want the lights and the darks…
O.        Do you ever do value studies?
A.        No, I don’t do any value studies.
O.        All in your head?
A.        That  tends to  be a pretty solid guide for me – although foggy and hazy, it still works for me – I just jump in and go for it and if I run into trouble – which I usually do – which all artists do – I hit the wall and work through it. – you just find a way – you make it work.  That sky you like is a case in point – there was something in the sky I didn’t like and I sat and stared and then picked up this brush and did some bold color and you know you wouldn’t do something like that if the sky was going well so it’s a much better drawing for it.  That sky is one of my favorite skies, but it’s not something I would do if things were going well – I wouldn’t dream of going there – there was no reason to have  the cojones to pick up that brush and make that bold move and hope it works – that drawing was done and if I’d really made a mess of it I may have had to start over – and that’s not something I wanted to do.



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It's Funny, but...


I have thoughts about numerous topics, but somehow I just don’t feel like saying anything this month – I’d rather sit back, watch, and listen.  I guess I’m getting old…It’s funny, but watching all the politicians campaigning and the narcissistic nature of so much of our populace complaining makes me long to be alone on the lake stalking my beloved friends, the black bass.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Why I Work Hard

It may be genetic, it may be my Mormon pioneering ancestry, it may be the work ethic observed in mentors Bill Clark and Jon Jerde…(?), but hard work seems perfectly normal.
I know that I have multi-points of view on just about any problem and that reconciling the various spins involved requires a lot of thought to satisfy my personal standard of excellence.  Work that looks great but lacks functional depth or work that functions great but lacks aesthetic depth barely peak my interest.  I like Buckminster Fuller’s quote: “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty, but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”  Having high standards pretty much requires hard work in order to reach them.
Geodesic Dome
I remember a hot summer day around 1965 in Reseda when I was under my ’56 Chevy on hot asphalt trying to beat off a muffler that had become bonded to the exhaust system, my arms were aching, rust particles were falling into my eyes, and I was practically in tears.  Well, my mother came out, got down under the car, and pounded that muffler until, an hour later, it finally came loose.  With that as a family legacy, I tend not to give up too easily.
Mom and Me
Then there is my competitive streak – once I gave up high school football this competitive drive became focused on whatever else occupied my life – namely architecture.    Architecture was easy in high school, difficult in my college year class, and tremendously challenging in the overall scope of the schools of architecture I attended.  Nonetheless, I stubbornly pressed on and eventually architecture became a way of life.  Today I pretty much do what I want, but the caveat is that (with the exception of bass fishing) everything I want to do seems to have something to do with architecture.

I don’t feel exhilaration when working on (or even completing) a particular piece of work, but I do feel somewhat derelict when I am not accomplishing something –  work is what I’m supposed to be doing so until I see the beam of a different light I’ll be right here just working away…

Working Away

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Make No Small Plans

When Helena and I decided to build a house here in the Dry Creek Valley we gave brief consideration to making a building that was comfortable, affordable, and mildly challenging, but something about this recipe just didn’t sit right with me.  I saw our life style, our property, and our practice were notable accomplishments and this recipe seemed too mild, too much like milk and toast.  When I asked Helena what she thought she quoted Chicago architect Daniel Burnham: “Make no small plans”…and so here we are.  Our idea is rather than build something we know we can achieve, we’ll build something out there near the limits of our capabilities.  These capabilities are certainly being tested, but at least we are experiencing the rewards and pains of striving to work up to our potential.  I am not adverse to dealing with challenges and I think Helena knew what she was doing when she married me.

The crane in the photos is in the process of setting two large glulam beams, three steel moment frames, and ten log columns.  Some of the logs have little notching, but the two living room logs notch around a number of girts and rafters as shown in this isometric drawing.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Long Plan

Someday I may write about what I like about the “square plan” (and I do love the square plan), but right now I seem particularly infatuated with the “long plan.” Of course, I had always admired some of Wright’s and Kahn’s long plans, but it wasn’t until seeing John Hejduk’s “wall house” and other drawings that a true love affair began.


The long plan AKA “spine plan” leaves little doubt regarding the important issues and sequences of the project and the choreography is explicit (!).  Long plans are especially good for experiencing different aspects of a site because they can stretch for dozens or even hundreds of feet from one end to the other like the Speake House.
The side façade is probably long and imposing like the Hubbard House, but the end can be quite minimal like the Johnson House.


Circulation is a critical component of the long plan and although sometimes rooms can simply be linked in the traditional manner, more commonly they are attached to a long gallery, library, or circulation space (I don’t like halls) like the Weber Residence.
Sometimes the long plans curl around on themselves (sometimes called train wreck schemes) to fit within the confines of their sites or to create courtyards like the Spalding House.

A “long plan” that was a cutting edge environmentally sensitive project was the Meredith Residence which was rejected by the California Coastal Commission.



At the moment we have one long plan under construction, one in the permitting process, and two in the design stages…

Friday, May 1, 2015

Latest Show

 Saturday April 2nd is the opening reception for a show of Obie’s drawings at Studio 391 in Gualala.  The show will be up until June 8th and includes three cardboard models to help give some architectural ambiance.  Following is the Architect/Artist’s Statement and a sampling of the drawings exhibited:



This exhibition samples a career's worth of drawings spanning from my student days in the 1960s to my mature days in the 21st century.  All images (but one) are originals.

I have always marveled at great draftsmanship – whether it be in the form of construction drawings, quick conceptual sketches, finished renderings, or works of fine art.  The intent of all drawing is to communicate visually that which cannot be adequately conveyed otherwise – my architectural sketches and illustrations usually depict a sense of the overall character of places yet to be built, an indication of the big idea, and how it might be realized.

Many of the drawings are related to the rhythms of nature, influences of our primeval DNA, and notions of co-existence with fellow life forms.  Most drawings begin with at least the germ of a compositional idea and evolve from there – often evolving and taking on their own growth pattern as the work proceeds.

The drawing technique is predominantly pen and ink, although graphite, marker, and ink or watercolor wash are sometimes used.  The specific approach becomes an important partner with the representational aspects of the work…  Some drawings are inclined more in one direction than others, but ultimately the reality of each particular drawing is simply that “It is itself.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In My Humble Opinion

So I’m heavily involved in doing what any architect worth his salt does in his studio – writing letters and making phone calls – when there appears an email from a former client asking a simple enough question: “why?” “Why do we have a visceral reaction to the cathedral in Sienna, the Blue Mosque, Lascaux Caves, the Pieta, the…?”
One of the interesting things about art is that there isn’t any one meaningful, all-inclusive way to explain it.  There are so many variables related to both the work and the beholder that most art criticism all too often comes off sounding like something akin to buffoonery.  In order to preserve my personal integrity and avoid being thought of as a buffoon myself I will limit my response to my personal reactions – which may or may not mesh with the way Wladyslaw in Krakow experiences the same piece of work.
I have experienced a lot of life, art, and architecture and most works that grab me viscerally are usually the confluence of a number of factors and are not accidents that they communicate viscerally.
Take the Sienna Cathedral and Blue Mosque – for openers I’m blown away just by the scope of the undertaking (!).  These guys were dead serious.  The mosque is so fantastic its image could accompany the dictionary definition of visceral. Both these buildings had great architects/artists guiding at least some of the work and who were obviously striving for an overwhelming effect.  Knowing that the work we are experiencing embodies many hundreds of years of life, history, and civilization can’t help but raise a few hairs on the back of my neck.  And sometimes the stars just align and good things happen (although sometimes they can also sometimes misalign and wreck havoc on otherwise wonderful situations).
Lascaux Caves…at 17,300 years old who wouldn’t be moved – hell, one of my early ancestors might have been holding the color pot for the guy who actually painted the bulls.  What’s weird is that so many of the figures are so “unprimative” – they seem remarkably sophisticated and stylized – the skillfully painted heads are disproportionally small.  The fact that the purpose behind these paintings is not clearly understood makes them all the more very intriguing – here they were just after the dawn of time, initiating work that will eventually be continued by Veronese and deKooning.
Pieta…great thought, skill, and drive to excel while speaking to the human condition just like the previous three examples…and I suspect some alignment of the stars.  But then it is Michaelangelo…what did you expect? 
Why?  I like the great thought and great skill, the compliment of both rational and emotional qualities, and the sense of intrigue concerning the enigma of life itself.  Five hundred years from now I expect some people may experience visceral reactions to Bilbao, the Robie House, Guernica and other modern works that have helped shape our sense of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we may be going.  And I am grateful for all of us who have been fortunate to have a ticket for the ride.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spartan Manor

Space used to be pretty tight
For several years part of our studio digs were in a reconstructed aluminum travel trailer: a “Spartan Manor” built after WWII by the Spartan Aircraft Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  And now it seems that our former employee, John Arnold, who has moved away from Architecture towards Industrial Heritage and Archaeology has written a paper titled “How Does an Airstream Mean? Let Me Count The Ways.” John’s interests lie somewhere in the social sciences loosely allied with anthropology and references the old aluminum can with fond memories.  Here is an excerpt related to us:
Washing our Spartan Manor studio                      Andrzej and Iza visiting in 2004
“Until recently, California architect Obie Bowman employed a chocked Spartan Manor dating from the mid-1950s as a design studio space on his rural Sonoma County property. Before building in new drafting tables and flat files, his office stripped out the original interior of the trailer (that had been parked for 30 years), added insulation, wired for telephone and new lighting, and refinished the interior in galvanized sheet steel wall panels. Despite lacking adequate seasonal thermal adaptability and its compact working conditions, the Manor served the office for over five years as a resourceful and creative design solution that touched lightly on the land—a symbolic representation of the firm’s philosophy that clients found intriguing and engaging. This adaptive reuse of an otherwise dormant travel trailer demonstrates not only that there was a viable persistence to its original aesthetic and static utility, but that it could accept different functional meanings over time.”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Good, The Bad, And ....

I find myself at an age where I sometimes feel like making later day assessments of my life.  I wonder how the good and the bad are stacking up against one another.  Cutting right to the chase I think that the good includes finding architecture, leaving the city, and living close to nature.  I think that the bad includes acquiring an excessive amount of material possessions (which I seem to covet) and not doing more to help preserve the natural world.  A few words about these latter two…

Material Possessions

In truth many of my possessions are akin to saving things that may have some future use.  Things like old Porsche engine parts, salvaged redwood lumber, and libraries of books on architecture, art, nature, fishing, etc.  But there are also my three vehicles, two boats, three pieces of property, a shop full of tools, collections of art, an exorbitant amount of fishing related paraphernalia, etc.  This is way more than the average world citizen could possibly possess on a planet with stable material and energy resources.  So what’s the answer?  Usually I just shrug my shoulders and begin the next day.

Natural World

I think of this as meaning all of the natural world, but with particular emphasis on the other life forms that inhabit the planet.  They are being cornered, diminished, and exterminated while we increase our numbers, increase our material possessions, and give little thought to where this is all leading.  One likely result is a greatly increased human population and a greatly decreased number of species and individual populations with the species.  I can’t help but wonder what if I were one of those other species?  What about “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”?  Can I bale cups of water in the flood of the tsunami?  Organizations can be more effective, but I don’t see any organization that actually looks to and addresses this` future.  They only adhere to their own, temporal interests – they being the Democrats, Republicans, CalGreen, LEED, AIA, X, Y, Z, etc.  In some ways some of these groups may be bailing buckets, but out there beyond the horizon is the source, and it is increasing much faster and more precipitously than token environmental gestures like rationing water use, buying locally, or driving electric cars.  That doesn’t even equate to the little toe on the human footprint.  I’m convinced that our human mindset will not change on its own. – it will require governmental enforcement and a vision of what we wish earth’s long term state of existence to be.  What will that population be?  And why?  To date the idea of where we are going is not even in the conversation.  I have a vision, but don’t know what to do about it…this is my greatest disappointment.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Times They Are A-changin'

I have taken few moments to reflect on things at the end of last year and the start of this one and  briefly consider the search for equality and righteousness in our unfair and indifferent world.  Alas, the best I can do is to quote the late bass fishing writer Grits Gresham who, when his wife rambled on at length about some social engagement she had planned, responded “purple worms in those tree tops should be poison.”


I also went to see a Lutah Riggs exhibit at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum last week.  Lutah was an early 20th century protégé of George Washington Smith and a fine architect in her own right - both were masterful Spanish Revival architects in Santa Barbara.  Say what you may about the shortcomings of the decoration, adherence to, and the imitation of a traditional building style…when created by the hand of a Smith or Riggs the resulting architecture displays a depth and richness absent in much of today’s design.
The main reason we value the Smiths and Riggses of the world is because their best work sometimes transcends the sum of its parts and exemplifies what architecture can become.  Being notably good architects they were able to instill more architecture into their work than the majority of their contemporaries -  most notably a sense of appropriate presence with and use of the site… and emotional qualities that make for a fuller, more complete experience.
Many good architects are able to achieve these qualities, and even more, but for the majority of our profession, the changes, added pressures, and constraints of the last half century have not been kind to architecture.  Expanding population, reduced resources, rampant building, planning and design restrictions, superficial criticism, and numerous other factors have forced too many architects into practices characterized by a struggle to complete bureaucratic lists, make numbers add up in arbitrary sums, and chase deadlines in a constant paper chase.  The resulting architecture is too often vapid, inappropriate, incomplete, and lacking in substance.
Smith and Riggs’ architecture certainly had and has substance.  Their architecture has a richness and inclusiveness you can feel.  There is a connectedness to the world that can’t be achieved by adding numbers to achieve a required number of points to determine its value.  Its value comes from the heart and communicates this way as well.  In the 21st century we pretty much live in a different world…less personal, more bureaucratic, and more technical…The Times They Are A-changin’.