Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Bigger Picture

The scene:  Beginning of the workweek at an architect’s studio  somewhere in  Northern  California.  The seasoned old architect/mentor is greeted by his protégé, a young intern not long removed from architecture school lingering at the architect’s drawing table:

I.                   Good Morning, Boss.

A.        How’s it going Michelangelo?

I.                   You really think I’m doing that well?  This is pretty flattering...

A.        Don’t let it go to your head…I’m not an infallible judge of character, let alone world-class artistic genius.

I.          Have you got a few minutes?   I’ve been  thinking  about something and  I’d like  to  run it by you.  Is this an OK time?

A.        It’s fine, what’s on your mind?

I.        I’ve  been  thinking  a  lot  lately about good  and  bad.  It  seems like everything,  every architect, and everyone else for that spite of their stature and    accomplishments always have their flaws and shortcomings…where are the great role models?  I was thinking about Louis Kahn with all his poetic insight into humanity and architecture and here he had two different families and was running two different households.  Our founding fathers, Washington,  Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin all had plenty to criticize.  What do you say about that?

A.        And you’re just now noticing that the world’s not perfect? Man is a complex  creature with a whole range of qualities and potentials, and they range from the saintly to the horrific.  And then there are women. 

I.          Dishonesty, infidelity, segregation…

A.        I think it’s presumptuous to think one can stand in another’s shoes, especially if he or she is from a different generation or culture.  Looking back on different   times and different places and making moral judgments is iffy at best.  We’re all very much influenced by our upbringing and the time surrounding us.  So what do  we do with the hand we are dealt?  In any event whatever criticism may be laid against us does not negate whatever positive achievements we’ve made.

            I suspect that 200 years from now many of our progeny will look back and wonder how we could have had some of the thoughts you and I accept today as perfectly normal.  Perhaps herding animals for slaughter, fighting wars in the  name of religion or philosophy…It’s pretty short sighted to judge the totality of someone’s life just because that life includes sins.  It’s probably important,  however, that the good of a life’s work outweighs the bad.

I.          And who is going make those decisions?   Good or bad…how good and how bad?   I suppose in a free society it’s up to individuals to figure that out on their own.  It  obviously makes sense that we would want our positive actions to outweigh the negative ones.

            Do we keep tally on a kind of life long score card?  We could give Jefferson a few pluses and minuses on his personal life and more pluses for his architectural and political accomplishments.

A.        When you’re talking far reaching affects on huge swaths of humanity I’d give  him more than a few pluses.  Maybe a few for architecture and a few more for the University of Virginia, but writing the Declaration of Independence would be far off the charts.  Judging his personal life is a shot in the dark.  Viewpoints and times are always changing – I believe Bob Dylan said that.  Life’s quality is  inversely proportional to human quantity – I said that!

I.          Quite poetic.  Who’d have thought.

A.        And to think I actually had to take dumbbell English.  In my world we need to  focus on the thought and skill which results in the positive and disregard labeling and name calling: brutalist, transcendentalist, racist, liberal, conservative…

            Another thought:  stick with what you know.  If you establish a point of  anchorage and move out from there you can occasionally look back and evaluate  the direction you are heading.

I.          That sounds good, but finding an anchor point is surely a lot easier said than done.

A.        Fair enough.  It might not be easy and it probably won’t just happen overnight.  You think and work and reflect and eventually something begins to merge out of  the ether.  

I.          Ohoooooo…

A.        It’s not ethereal, but it’s not simple, formulaic thinking either.  In fact it’s only partially thinking…and partially feeling and partially demanding…

I.          Demanding what?

A.        Demanding or insisting to be a step beyond the status quo.  This is Steve Martino, Mike Reynolds, Smiljan Radic - not the popular group think magazine serving of  the month.

I.          I’m losing track of what we’re even talking about.

A.        We’re talking about the ability to use peripheral vision.  To see beyond the short sighted narcissism that is commonplace, and grapple with the bigger picture. Too many of us view the world as little more than a snapshot of what is in it for us…for right now…with no sense of the past or future.

I.          I’m not sure I would recognize the bigger picture even if I saw it.

A.        Try harder.  Why don’t you start searching on your work station right about now?