Wednesday, November 1, 2017

I Think…Group Think

This is part of an on-going series of  periodic posts written as short discussions between an architect and his intern dating back to the October 1, 2017 post and beyond.

I.          I was thinking about that anchor point you sometimes talk about and wondering… the way so many architects, and others, seem to think alike, do they have simpatico anchor points? 

A.        Perhaps, but just as plausible is that their thinking is influenced by people around them as well as by the rigors of life and the daily grind.

I.          In our studio it seems that much of the rigor is working to get through and around all the various agencies we have to deal with.  Why aren’t we working in the same direction? Why aren’t we all part of the same team and working towards the same goals...

A.         That would be ideal, but too often we don’t receive much empathy from the powers that be.  In these times when we are being inundated with countless new rules and regulations helping to maintain order as our population runs rampant it is important to me to preserve as many individual freedoms as possible.  My inherent DNA leans towards individualism and away from the many forms of  governing directives and group thinking. Somewhere between these two poles, the  individual and the public at large, lies the scrimmage line where constant give and take struggle to find an acceptable balance.

I.          It sounds like you are talking “fair and balanced” (tongue in cheek).

A.    The scrimmage line for us is obtaining permits via the governing agencies – building departments, planning departments, design committees – administering generalized design oversight which is often not particularly in the best interest of our specific project, and in my view, not even in the best interest of the overall community – unless you think the Guggenheim diminishes the border along Central Park or the Disney Concert Hall is an affront to the Los Angeles city fabric.

I.          I know governing agencies are generally not held in high esteem and disregard of codes and regulations is commonplace,  but what a shame – to have rules and then maneuver around or ignore them.  Are the rules inadequately drafted to begin with?  What gives?

A.        It reminds you a bit of the country at large, doesn’t it? I think the underlying problem is that generalized regulations inevitably intrude on and limit individual circumstances.  Envision a group of our contemporaries sitting around a table discussing ways to makes the general public safer, or perhaps more aesthetically coherent assuming things should be less diverse or more diverse.  Consider a simplistic example like flow restrictions on plumbing fixtures – they regulate  how much water you can use to take a shower or flush a toilet.  I see     this as an individual need or   preference, not some universal constant.  And in a lot cases the fixture just gets changed out in spite of the requirement.  The whole mindset is wrong. Perhaps many such requirements should be “suggestions” only.  Or maybe water should be controlled by raising the usage cost…

I.                  I know you’re big on water rights, but...

A.        Perhaps I should have used a different example.  How about lights, guardrails, door swings, grading, solar orientation, fireplaces...

I.          So what about diversity?  That’s a popular buzz word these days.

A.        Diversity and uniformity are areas near the ends of the same composition scale.  Depending on the circumstance sometimes you want more of one than the other.  Our perspective, however, is flexible and changing. It depends a lot on point of view, which reminds me of that anchor point. Where is it?  We may want    diversity, just not too much in our community. And perhaps rightly so.  Most of   us want a stable base of operation from which to run our daily lives.  When you come home after a day’s work you want to find your dog in the yard and your ice cream in the freezer.  After that you may be ready for some variety: perhaps a bar mitzvah, a piñata party, or a Chinese dinner.

I.          How about going to see a musical?

A.       We all have our limits. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.  Just kidding, I actually took my wife to see Hair 48 years ago and Hamilton this year.

I.          That’s quite impressive, Boss.

A.       Anyway, individual accomplishments are largely the result of driving forces within each person and can be very deep and complex.  It’s difficult to find a group, committee, or agency   with this kind of motivation.  That’s why everything generally narrows down to an individual:  principal architect, president, coach, general, etcetera. In architecture there are design teams, even great ones, but so far no match for Michelangelo, Wright, Gehry…It does seem, however, that as our culture becomes less personal and more mass and technically oriented there has been a shift away from individuality and the heartfelt.  Of necessity there is greater emphasis on solving problems beyond the realm of any one individual.  It’s the difference between Wright designing Fallingwater and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson designing an Apple Store or between them and NASA designing our space program.  There’s not a lot of history and cultural nuance in the space program, but it works great for survival in a hostile environment. 

I.         So do you see the growing reach of government control as endangerment to individual rights and freedoms?

A.        Absolutely, and as I often say the quality of life is being eroded as well.

 I.        Well, not many people can expect to have the kind of existence you’ve made for yourself out here in the woods.

A.       It’s sometimes difficult, but I started out with practically nothing; it’s a matter of getting your priorities straight and tenaciously pursuing them.

I.          And now group thinking is out there rattling their sabers at our gates.

A.        The groupies do not see the shortsightedness of their ways.  They even think they are the glue that holds everything together.  They will serve us a little justice and a daily bucket of warm water for bathing. Voila! The spirit of the individual will always resist, but individual thinking needs to be more forcefully  reflected   in  new rules, laws,  and regulations, which should  be carefully crafted to preserve the maximum amount of individual  flexibility.  This was the way President Kennedy dealt with the Soviet Union  during the Cuban Missile Crisis, giving them as much flexibility as possible, but this is seldom the way our building, planning, and design review regulations are structured today.

 I.         Go get’em, boss.

 A.       I wish I could.

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