This post is part of an ongoing (although intermittent) series of fictional chats between an architect and an intern in the architect’s Northern California studio.
I. Try this one, Maestro. What’s the bottom line, the real bottom line? Is love all there is?
A. Plato said something like love is an unfortunate disorder of the heart and brain. I’m not sure what part it will play for our continual survival in the far distant future. Is that all you’ve got? How about some hardball?
I. Okay, any sage advice on women?
A. Now, that’s hitting below the belt…reminds me of when I ask my wife what I can do to make up for some despicable transgression I’ve committed. She has these demonic, underhanded responses that only a woman would make like “smile more” or “dance more” or “drink more water.”
I. That’s what I mean. What’s wrong with women anyway?
A. It’s certainly a mystery, that’s for sure.
I. Well, I was talking to your wife the other day and I think she is a really good partner for you.
A. Okay, and why do I think this is not just a nice compliment?
I. She said she feels badly that with your talent you aren’t doing more prestigious projects…that your decision to move to the country has limited your professional growth. Does that bother you?
A. Oh, I’m sometimes envious when I see someone doing a project with more physical and cultural presence, a multi-million dollar sculpture museum or the like. But I made the choice to live closer to nature and practice architecture with less physical impact on the landscape. I have no regrets in this regard.
I. Remodeling a vacation house isn’t as significant as designing a church or museum where large groups of people are affected.
A. Perhaps. Out here our buildings interface with the natural landscape first hand, whether it’s dealing with muddy shoes, or carpenter bees, or leaf build-up on roofs. The church or museum can be fantastic – they can also be (as they sometimes are) a little like Disneyland for adults. Our work here is rubbing shoulders with something larger, and for me, more significant than the common narcissistic view of ourselves as the gatekeepers of the planet.
You may have noticed that through architecture, little by little, we are constantly learning about ourselves and the world around us, and that we are doing this largely because of the projects we design and build. There is a more personal connection with their small scale and our more fully engaged involvement with their creation and the setting they are part of.
I. It sounds like you’re talking about some kind of regionalism, right?
A. I’ve never been comfortable with “isms.” There are many architectural talents working today and some of them talk about siting their buildings, others about listening to the sun and wind and the land whispering to them. Perhaps this is so, but much of what is printed in most popular magazines is little more than lip service. Too many architects who espouse this stuff are blatantly disingenuous and the same is true for many landscape architects. And no magazine ever seems to question any of this: they just mindlessly print whatever is the talk of the day. It’s pretty superficial.
I. You mean they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk?
A. Something like that… politically correct, high fashion donor dinners are a long way from personal responsibility, laws of survival, and mid-western slaughter houses.
I. So you want them to fight a bear with nothing but a Bowie knife?
A. No, but I would sure like to see some appreciation and treatment of the landscape as more than a cosmetic backdrop. I would like to see buildings placed into the landscape with a smidgen of empathy for the inhabitants that pre-existed construction.
I. Do I sense an air of bitterness?
A. Just a sense of disappointment. But that’s why I’m Okay with our work and our lifestyle. Cutting firewood, picking apples, and dealing with the heat and cold of the seasons helps me remember that I’m alive, at least for now. And I don’t feel too sorry for those not motivated to try to figure how to get out of the city.
You know, I think of successfully partnering with the landscape as one of my optimal goals, but really, I almost never achieve this to the degree I’d like, and that’s a little disheartening to me. Life is a struggle, but I don’t know that I’d want it any other way. This weekend they will be marching and protesting in the streets of San Francisco while I’ll be building memories catching bass on Lake Sonoma. Sometimes less really is more.