The WorkPlay Anomaly: Thoughts on Architectural Practice

02.05.02

This is a remnant of the core of my BArch thesis.  I was interested in the built environment as storytelling device.  It is also surprising to find this, some 11 years later, and see strains of my current work, even back then.  I guess I’ve been on this path for quite a while.  Some things, in hindsight, sound silly.  I put them forth, nonetheless, as they reflect where I was at that time.

            One does not have to look for long to see that so much of what we make and do in construction is driven by factors beyond those of the interests of the client and designer.  Why?  A client may want a modern or classical look.  (S)he may desire the building to have certain materials or colors.  The architect may have certain ideals (s)he desires to express.  There may be an interest in relating this new building or renovation to its surroundings and attempting to add to the ambiance of the locale.  But it is not unusual for these considerations to become lost in the design and construction process.  So often what is built, where it is built, when it is built, and how it is built are guided by forces that have little to do with the client or designer or what is really appropriate in the long term for that place.  When this happens, the final quality of the building with regard to fulfilling the client, the designer, and the locale is left to chance.  It might have been built rapidly, with easy financing terms, without too much hassle from the inspectors, on a site that was a steal.  But was it worth it?  Why do we choose to operate in this manner?

Hannah Arendt provides an explanation for why this scenario occurs in, The Human Condition.  She points out that there is a tyrant in charge of this operation.  It is the monarch of us all in contemporary Western society, majority opinion.  In the U.S., the term, the market, can be substituted for Arendt’s majority opinionThe market rules over us all in the social realm.  Its chief concern at all times is maximum economy with regard to providing for the basics of life.  That is, it is always concerned with providing — and providing for — food, shelter, clothing, reproduction, childrearing.  In the U.S. the term money can be substituted for any of these as here it facilitates them all within the market to a great degree.  Beyond these concerns, the market is disinterested in humanity.  It favors bureaucracy and militarism, as these are more predictable and stable than people.

Well this is not a very good fit for humans.  In addition to providing for these basics we also harbor dreams and ideals…are enamored with things that in the market’s schema count as frivolous.  So, according to Arendt, we have developed a second realm.  The intimate realm is that little space or activity that most of us tend to have that harbors our frivolous endeavors.  It is that place or activity that one engages (in) for no reason other than enjoyment.  This is a realm of individuality.  Here one acts of one’s own volition, one does not merely obey.  It is, in contrast to the bureaucracy of what Arendt describes as our social realm and the market, “off the grid.”  Occasionally these interests are shared by enough people that they grow into public events.  There is no realm that allows for this though, as events and social and economic forces not beholden to the market threaten it.  All things public occur in the social realm which means that the market is in control, otherwise the powers-that-be get nervous.  Thus any public activity that spontaneously arises is appropriated by the market by adding layers and fragments of the quotidian – sex, food, security, childrearing – and playing on fears and desires and expectations — in order to assert its authority and control.

Arendt sets up this scenario in contrast to her description of the arrangement in ancient Greece and shows a gradual shift from then to now.  In ancient Greece, Arendt believes that things were very much different.  There was neither a social nor an intimate realm.  The basics of life were addressed in a private realm.  In this realm each household was a tyranny.  When one left the private realm one entered the public realm.  In the public realm were entertained all of the aspirations of humanity.  This was the realm of ideals.  This was the realm of great actions unencumbered by the quotidian.  This was the realm of individuality.  Yet this individuality stands in opposition to that of today because its forum was public and engagement of other individuals was an intrinsic aspect of its arrangement.  It had as its purpose, its privilege, its celebration, the production of great things unencumbered by the base, animalistic aspects of humanity.  Contrast this with our need to always satisfy the market.  Consider that Arendt’s concept of the social realm can be read into Koolhaas’ conceptualization of the skyscraper in, Delirious New York.

Often times we find expression for our thoughts and feelings in the words of others.  We also find ways to express ourselves only to discover later that others have been interested in similar issues.  My interest in these writings by Arendt stems from their association with an idea which has been developing for a while.

Language is a tool, an occurrence of technology that approximates our activities and our environment, it does not fully instantiate or re-present them. It is to our detriment that our language has separate words for work and play — that our language is so useful for stratifying and less so for coalescing.  It leads us to think that, for instance, work and play, or as Arendt might say, activities which take place in the social realm versus activities that take place in the intimate realm, are two separate types of activities.  There is a state of action where they are not the same, as Arendt notes.  This is an arrangement where one’s work is merely perfunctory.  It serves a purpose within the market, it nominally enhances the civilization, but has no primary aim of enhancing the quality of the life of the performer or perhaps even those for whom it is performed.  When not performing perfunctory tasks as dictated by the market, the performers can pass the time in three ways.  The first is to tend to whatever basic needs must be met for himself/herself or his/her family (like in Arendt’s private realm of ancient Greece).  Our working conditions are generally set up so as to allow only for the absolute bear minimum in this area… just whatever will work for the now.  The second is to indulge in escapism (closer to Arendt’s intimate realm, but the baser side of it).  This would be to engage in an activity whose only purpose is to give one an excuse for doing nothing with one’s free time.  It is the act of unwinding taken to a perpetually necessary degree.  One needs so much down time away from the drudgery of perfunctory work before one is ready to take on a hobby that one never has time to get past the winding down.  The third is to engage in a hobby or activity of personal significance whose only point is the fulfillment engaging in it brings (closer to Arendt’s intimate realm, but the more enriching side of it).   There is rarely much time for this kind of activity unless it is conscientiously constructed and so the development of this activity tends to remain stunted.

But if more time for these enriching activities is conscientiously constructed then they can be developed further.  As the products of these activities are refined they become of value to civilization.  What would it take for one to develop these activities to the point where they could also constitute one’s work?  And to moderate the extent to which the market co-opts them?  This state of action would be one where work and play are the same.  This might be a very invigorating and rewarding way to engage the world.  How to achieve it?

I think most people start out trying to do what they enjoy.  But the pressures of participating in our civilization and respecting the market’s trends are enough to overwhelm their ideals and they end up making a trade off.  They allow the activity to become more or less pure work in exchange for the security that civilization purports to provide for themselves and their families.

For me, the building of a lifestyle to accommodate work/play, or a more deeply integrated and enriching professional practice, began the second year of architecture school.  The project put before us in studio was for a cyber-café in the next town over.  But the social dynamics of its designated location seemed to suggest that such a program would not fair well in that locale.  Either the program needed to change or the locale…or a true architectural marvel would have to be created to syncretize the two disparate value systems embodied in a program that offered “quality” and exoticisms at a price and a locale that had long peddled economy and familiarity.  I struggled with this project conceptually.  I kept starting over.  The program for the project painted the designers and cafe owner as missionaries bringing design, culture, the internet, and quality coffee to a small, rural Southern community.  In talking to people in that community, some found it offensive.  In one instance, I contrasted the refined coffee experience we were to provide with the unpleasant experience of getting a cup of coffee at McDonald’s.  The person with whom I was speaking immediately became defensive and pointed out that her parents loved McDonald’s coffee (the implied sentiment being that her parents are refined and they like McDonalds’ coffee, so it must be refined — or else am i suggesting that her parents are unrefined? — big problem)  I immediately realized the arrogance of the program and the false sense of the designers’ rights to tell the people of this community what they should or should not enjoy and do.  Nothing I produced satisfied what I felt the architecture must accomplish.  To satisfy only one aspect meant that on the whole the endeavor would be a failure and so I felt that the two competing worldviews represented by the program and the context must be reconciled to each other…must be redefined in terms of one another.  It was suggested to me by a friend that I forget about this problem.  It was not the point of the exercise.  The point was to achieve an aesthetically competent design, well communicated, and which embodied genuine interest on the part of the student.  The point was to make it to third year of architecture school and show an aptitude for making pretty renderings.  The point was to make a showing about understanding contemporary design aesthetics — not to try to actually achieve a well-functioning design.  Such an approach I felt to be unacceptable.  Stratify, iconocize, reduce, simplify, in this case the design problem, because it is just a minor element for engaging the larger issue which is acculturation to the profession.  This is what really matters in our civilization…belonging to a defined, recognizable, and “distinct” group of individuals and stepping in time — the quality and appropriateness of our work is only of tertiary concern, at best.

I didn’t want to set up that course of action in my work/play.  Trying to relegate aspects of an instance of work/play to different realms in order to process each piece individually to artificially simplify the challenge leads to distortions of each akin to those in a fun-house-mirror.  In these stratified realms, artifacts can be judged to be necessarily true, but validity is almost impossible to assess because the designs are not grounded in the realities and intricacies of the social and physical contexts.  Welcome to our first-hand example of Arendt’s social realm and the influence of the market.  Education and architecture, two elements that were born of and lived in the public realm of ancient Greece — built upon fierce individuality that had recognized the value of collaborating to collectively achieve more than any individual could — where they were more or less unencumbered by the obligation to provide for our basic needs, here find themselves impotent and expendable puppets of the market.  Now of course, even when subjugated to the market, it’s not as though they are of absolutely no benefit to the students or society.  Such is highly improbable.  As activities, objects, or personalities are iconocized, stratified, or reduced in complexity, in effect distorted to provide easy and quick accessibility and an air of clarity which is in reality unattainable, they continue to embody value though it diminishes in proportion to distortion and leaves one asking, at what point is the corruption to an extent that the activity, object, or personality is no longer cost effective.

With my regard for architecture school waning, I responded by beginning a co-op in my third year.  One of the reasons I was told by several within the school not to co-op was that my sense of design would be corrupted by the business world.  The business of architecture was generally painted as an unethical and hollow realm of architecture…as were the typical activities of American builders.  Not surprisingly, such sentiments were resounded within the business community with respect to the realm of architectural theory & education and that of the builders.  I had held several jobs in construction prior to starting architectural school and so I knew that there was a general air in the construction industry that the architects, both the theoreticians & educators and the practitioners knew almost nothing.  None of this made sense though.  I’ve just been very critical of the university-style architectural education and yet I don’t think it is valueless.  There is much value in it.  But neither are the business or construction aspects of the profession valueless either.  I hypothesized that since the profession is stratified, each realm has developed on its own for so long that now they do not relate well to each other and there is too much friction.

All must be engaged but much must be discarded and everything heavily scrutinized to ascertain exactly which aspects of practice are common to all three and which enhance the general practice.  If we hadn’t stratified to such an extent because of the ease and rapidity that such affords we wouldn’t be faced with a situation where all are so unintelligible in terms of each other…where each (falsely) appears ethically bankrupt to the others.  The challenge then is to attempt to create a situation, a life-style, that would allow for one to work/play in all aspects of design simultaneously – to reintegrate.  I have delved into this forest.  The greatest loss that I have suffered is that I now have no one to guide me.  But I am searching…

THE ROLE OF THE ARCHITECT AND A DESCRIPTION OF THE FORUM FOR DESIGN

This is a personal explanation of the creation of Architecture.  The three main agents that participate in this action are the client, the designers, and the available construction technology.  Through them a syncretic act occurs.  The result is a discrete innovation of technology, both abstract and proper object.  This technology codifies a belief system in a physical form.  The belief system is thereby made available for use, contemplation, and critique by whomever may encounter this architectural creation.  First, I shall define the terms.

Life forms is a term more all-encompassing than humans and is intended to allow for the possibility of other species engaging both the physical and metaphysical realms with similar approaches as those we humans use.  For instance, pets and work animals do in fact influence the design and use of our environments.  At first the term beings was used but it was pointed out that in certain contexts being is already a specialized philosophical term and so to avoid confusion life forms was chosen instead.

At the forefront of this discussion is the quantification of our environment into two realms, the physical realm and the metaphysical realm.  They are both aspects of the same existence and perhaps enumerating them as discrete realms is more a commentary on the way in which we as humans are capable of perceiving of our environment (and discussing it) and in no way indicative of their actual relationship (much the same point i made about separating work and play conceptually).  Still, this distinction, artificial or not, between the physical and the metaphysical realms is one of the major suppositions for the viewpoint presented here.  The physical realm is that aspect of the environment which is perceived of and explored through the senses and emotions.  The metaphysical realm is that aspect of life which is perceived of and explored through intellectual and emotional faculties.

The second major supposition of this viewpoint is that all phenomena, that is, all events, occurrences, manifestations of any kind, potentialities and actualities, both in the metaphysical and physical realms, can be said to be proportional/scalar systems.  This means first of all that a given proportional system can occur at different sizes, i.e. they are scalar.  This means secondly, that all systems of these two realms are in some way relatable to each other.  I make this claim based on the following reasoning.  It is impossible that one life form could be aware of two phenomena whose variables were completely indefinable in terms of the other system’s variables.  This is to say that if two or more systems present themselves to a person either through his/her intellect, emotions, or senses, then those systems already have something in common.  They are both appreciable by means of the same limited perceptual faculties.  Thus they have common variables and are in some measure definable in terms of the other.  That is, if a proportional/scalar system of the metaphysical realm, that is, appreciable through the intellect or emotions, can generate a physical response, perceived through the senses and emotions, or vice versa,  then said system also has common variables of the two realms.  This does not rule out that there could be undefined aspects of a given system.  The point is that all we discover in the metaphysical and physical realms are proportional/scalar systems and that they are definable in terms of each other through the creation of mediating proportional/scalar systems that are appreciable by our limited faculties.

The next pair of terms are civilization and hypostasis.  They are discrete quantifications — conventionalizations — of the same entity, but conceptual opposites. They exist within the physical and metaphysical realms and are some of the technologies of life forms.  As technologies their purpose is to facilitate the exploration and explaining of the physical and metaphysical realms by the life forms.  The hypostasis describes a constantly adjusting range of potentialities within the two realms.   These potentialities range from the ephemeral and barely intelligible to the very clearly defined and inevitable.  The civilization describes a constantly adjusting range of actualities within the two realms.  It also encompasses the barely realized to the fully actualized.  These ranges should be viewed in relation to the notion of proportional/scalar systems.  As variables are discovered through exploration of the two realms, awareness of their existence and recognition of their functions allows for the revelation of other possible combinations and constructs.  The potentialities of the hypostasis feed the development of the actualities of the civilization which reconfigure the potentialities.  Furthermore, if the civilization functions as a protective shell for the life forms, then the hypostasis is the softer outer tissue, just developing.  Or perhaps it is a lubricant that facilitates a steady and controlled growth of the civilization.  The hypostasis is, in a sense, an externalized womb.  It offers many possible avenues of exploration and explanation, in short, of growth.  A mature civilization relegates its endeavors to what the hypostasis offers.  The health of the civilization is directly proportional to the health of the hypostasis.  A very plush hypostasis has the potential for a robust civilization which allows for secure and comfortable life forms which feel less stress and are more resilient.  An emaciated hypostasis can only support a weak civilization that fosters confusion, nightmarishness, and self-destruction.

Proper object technologies are manifestations of civilization in the physical realm.  They include all tangible technologies, and rivers, mountains, & other natural features which may be manipulated and utilized by life forms.  The proper object technologies function as symbolic predecessors to and future signifiers of the abstract technologies.  They are products of civilization’s forays into the physical realm.

Abstract technologies are manifestations of civilization in the metaphysical realm.  Abstract technologies include:   language, religious ideas, scientific ideas, philosophic ideas, popular sentiments, daily routines, institutions, standardizations & conventions, laws, governments, etc.,…,sins.  They are civilization’s forays into the metaphysical realm.  It is important to remember that as both proper object technologies and abstract technologies are proportional/scalar systems, they can be defined in terms of each other.

The discovery of these technologies and subsequent assimilation into the civilization is the work of the interpretive technologies.  The interpretive technologies work through the fine arts, popular arts, and the sciences.  Civilization brings proper object technology and abstract technologies into itself via these technologies.  The hypostasis and civilization are then recapitulated through the interpretive technologies to give place to other potentialities and actualities.  Of course the interpretive technologies aren’t static functions.  They reconfigure as the quantity and rate of change of proper object & abstract technologies and the scale & complexity of the hypostasis and civilization to be assimilated fluctuates.

All three categories of technologies and the hypostasis and civilization which incorporate them tend to manifest as distinct proportional systems, interrelated, but which treat issues of change at differing scales of complexity.  Such relationships can be thought of in terms of inertia.  The proper object technologies treat manifestations of change at a scale that is less than the scales of complexity of the other three functions.  They have the least inertia and are therefore the most responsive to changes of lesser degrees.  The abstract technologies treat manifestations of change at a scale that is relatively greater than that of proper object technologies and therefore require manifestations of change of a larger scale to initiate response.  Interpretive technologies treat manifestations of a greater scale still.  Civilization is the conglomeration of all of these systems. It is them working in conjunction and embodies a tremendous amount of inertia to be overcome by a manifestation of change.  Lastly, the hypostasis doesn’t treat manifestations of change but anticipates them.  It offers itself as an entity at once so enormous and yet so obscure that one wonders what is the more magnificent, its inertia or that this greatest of inertia occurs as an ethereal pervasive non-entity.

The duration of relevancy of a technology tends to be inversely proportional to the rate at which technologies are innovated.  Technologies useful through greater durations (per quantity & complexity of change) have a greater probability of attaining profundity, clarity,  and refinement.  If such happens the hypostasis, civilization, and other technologies have increased potential to grow in profundity, clarity,  and refinement.  They tend toward a complimentary response.  A more “complete” understanding of the interplay of  the physical and abstract realms results, giving much psychological comfort to the life forms.  Such tends to give a feeling of understanding one’s environment.  Healthy inertia tends to increase.

But life forms have the capability of innovating proper object and abstract technologies at a greater rate than interpretive technologies’ abilities to assimilate them into the hypostasis.  When this happens, the recapitulatory qualities of the interpretive technologies and the cohesiveness of the hypostasis and civilization fracture.  The quality of our lives begins to erode.  A psychological stress manifests in the life forms.  The world of proper object technologies seems to lack relation to our abstract explanations of ourselves, interpretive technologies seem impotent, and there seem no underlying themes.  We live in a nightmare of foreign objects & ideas without a comfortable basis with which to value and judge them.

Our ability to produce technology is not a justification for doing so.  At the moment such is a great problem in the U.S.  We are now incapable of developing our civilization at the rate necessary to assimilate our new technologies.  An attempt to remedy this predicament by assimilating technology with more technology begins.  Our civilization begins to atrophe, becoming increasingly fragmented, one-dimensional, and self-referencing. This is the metaphysical equivalent of sensory deprivation.  Lack of stimuli by means of overwhelming stimulation.  Stratify, iconocize, homogenize, reduce.  It is under these conditions that we are able to keep up this relentless pace of technological advancement.  The result is an increasingly dogmatic, iconographic, and hence fractured culture existing on many shards of one-dimensionality.

Fortunately such behavior is not virulent, nor is it inherent in the civilization of the U.S.  As disagreeable as the behavior may be the civilization is young and still makes the mistakes of youth.  The prevention is a hypostasis, civilization, and their systems that have achieved a certain critical proportion/scale and integration.  That is, these systems have attained enough profundity, clarity, and refinement (inertia) that they act as governors for the rates of change occurring in the other systems.  If the governor is too restrictive it will inhibit the salubrious flow of most technologies and stifle healthy change.  If it is too loose it will allow unassimilated change to flood the system.  An equilibrium must be met that regulates the flux of technologies to optimize assimilation…making a profound, agile, resilient, hypostasis that contains the most technologies possible balanced with the most profundity, clarity, and refinement, or rather, delineation of a multitude of viable perspectives based on the manifested technologies.  This is the real key; comfortable options in as many situations as possible.  We feel safe and powerful when this is the case.  There is low internal stress.  Consequently, we are in a better position to mitigate external stresses.  The opposite is true when there is much internal stress.  We can’t deal with anything.  Thus it is critical to maintain balance.

Since we are talking about these elements as proportional/scalar systems that can be represented in terms of each other, it should be possible to codify this reasoning, this occurrence of abstract technology.  Critical proportion/scale of technologies is facilitated by codifying such in durable artifacts, for instance, painting, architecture, theatre, music, landscape, religion, government, etc.  With equilibrium and a multitude of perspectives to utilize comes the truest sense of the interrelation of things.  Then there is not the aggrandizement of technologies merely because they are shiny and new.  Neither is there killing of important technologies because they demand change.  (The latter being a potential problem for civilizations whose interpretive technologies are too restrictive, typically an older civilization with much tradition.)  In summary, agile & powerful technologies with a rich hypostasis function as technological governors and limit the rate of change to manageable.  As an architect my interest will lie in being an instrument of the interpretive technologies.

Syncretism I summarize because it is a word not typically run across daily.  It is of great significance in this period when civilizations from all over the world are commingling.  Syncretism is the merging of two or more belief systems or the creation of a new belief system that allows for each of the others within itself.

Architecture occurs wherever building is carried on in such a way that what is built has significance or elicits emotion beyond purely fulfilling its duty to keep the weather out and the temperature regulated and the whatever other services are required as per the particular case.  To put this in terms of our new vocabulary, the proper object produced stimulates does more than address basic physical needs — it stimulates the intellect or emotions.  That is, the manifested proportional/scalar system references proportional/scalar systems of the metaphysical realm in beneficial ways for life forms.

Architecture occurs whenever the goal in building is the success of the object itself and the life forms who use it, and not primarily the ease of financing, ease of construction, rapidity of construction, or any of the myriad other influences that can dictate what the final product is without interest in how that product makes one feel or about what it makes one think or do.  This is not to say that buildings built under the guidance of these market force stimuli can not have Architectural qualities or in fact be Architecture.  But when the creation of Architecture is a distant interest from the process of construction and the needs of the market, then the likelihood of Architecture occurring is left to chance.

Architecture cannot be subdivided in practice.  The theoretical cannot be made true without the tension of business and construction craft.  The business cannot be made respectable without the tension of theory and construction craft.  The construction craft cannot proceed beyond fancy without the tension of business and theory.   We assume because we have the separate words, business, theory, craft, that they are actually separate activities.  While one can be, at times, tended to more than the others; they are all always involved in the practice, all of the time.  Trying to relegate them to different realms in order to simplify the processing of each piece individually leads to distortions of each akin to those of a fun-house mirror.  In these stratified realms, artifacts can be judged to be necessarily true, but validity is almost impossible to assess.

The creation of Architecture is a syncretic act that includes a client, designers, and the construction technology at hand.  Both the client and the designers bring to the design process their own belief systems.  The design that results is that construct which mediates these pre-existent metaphysical proportional/scalar systems of each person involved, as well as the proportional/scalar systems of construction practice and the social organization of the locale.

Both the client’s and the designers’ belief systems can be thought of as discrete proportional/scalar systems living in a metaphysical landscape.  They are made up of similar elements such as ideas on spirituality, family, government, TV, etc.  Their respective structures tend to be mostly the same though the fine tuning, the articulation of, the degree of refinement of these various elements is where most of the perceived difference exists.  The creation of Architecture is the creation of a new hybrid proportional/scalar system tuned to resonate with each, to redefine each unto the other, to reflect each.  This is the first syncretic act of the process.  Not only is the development of Architecture the development of this new hybrid belief system, but it is the embodiment of this system in physical form that is itself governed by proportional/scalar systems of the physical realm.  Now the construct gains form through finding expression in the construction materials available.  Again a syncretic act occurs.  The degree of success of the project is measured by the degree to which the constructed proportional/scalar systems allow the original belief systems to remain manifest or if a change is instigated, that it be for better clarity of intention or articulation.

The show, Wheel of Fortune, showcases a process that is at the heart of the notion of what designers’ roles are in the process of creating Architecture.  Consider the phrase to be discovered on Wheel of Fortune as existing in the realm of potentiality.  Consider the letter board and the person turning the letters as the realm of actualities.  The task is to transform a potentiality into an actuality.  People are working toward this end.  The one who accomplishes this task first is rewarded.  How this is accomplished is up to each individual.  Methods may range from the scientific to the artistic.  And most likely occur somewhere in between.  This is what designers do.  Designers translate potentialities into actualities by applying methods.

In being the first to recognize what actuality a potentiality can be and relating this to others, the designer is functioning as a storyteller.  This person is birthing a potentiality into the realm of actuality.  This person has proven to possess a unique ability to figure out the puzzle with less information provided in order to grasp the actuality in the potentiality.  This is the same act as performed by the designer, the musician, the physicist, the contractor, the scientist, the investor, the parents.  Fire is brought from the mountaintop.  The Ten Commandments are brought.  The person capable of realizing something with less explicitly revealed brings that something unto others.  That person offers an idea, a perspective, a belief system, a product.  Such is delivered in a form available intellectually, emotionally, sensorily.  This is the role of the designer.  But this is the role of everyone.  It is important to note that this bringing forth of potentiality into actuality is something that everyone does.  Whether it is figuring out first an aspect of a soap opera, doing a crossword puzzle, teaching oneself an instrument, or designing the next invention to change the world.

The construction technology used to embody these ideas is the only element of the triad, client, designers, construction technology, that has not yet been discussed.  This is also the area that is relevant to the project about to be discussed.  Considering what materials will be used to manifest the story that the client and designers have to tell is an act with ethical implications.  The products and techniques of construction one chooses are essentially an endorsement by client and designers, who make a powerful statement to those who interact with the building as to what constitutes responsible construction and an experience of the activities and spaces that take place within the construction.  Whether one hides or articulates various elements of a building tells of whether or not they are thought to be beautiful and relevant to daily life and/or people’s dreams.  If technology is hidden we communicate that it is somehow dangerous or ugly or unimportant or strange.  If it is visible we are saying that it is safe and attractive and beautiful and relevant.  Sometimes things are hidden just because we have an incomplete understanding of them; we can’t see how they relate to our lives so they scare us at worst or, at the least seem unattractive.

I purport that currently we live in a civilization masked with machines, processes, and materials that reference older, irrelevant aspects of our civilization and hence antiquated belief systems.  The masks offer the further problem that since they are employed though not essential, they are wasteful.  But the machines, processes, and materials that actually run our civilization are typically hidden or at least not appreciated.  The ideas they reference are consequently not constantly reinforced in the physical realm and become easy to lose sight of or never even realize.  Our few brief encounters with these strangers then are awkward and uncomfortable.  The result is confusion, distortion, nightmarishness, things lose their value and seem trite.  In opposition to this, I hypothesize that a sound and provocative design expressed thoughtfully and indicative of those elements of construction necessary to provide for the technological requirements of a given lifestyle enhances people’s understanding of their world and how it functions and facilitates psychological comfort, security, and clarity.  Such references concepts that actually drive our civilization and thereby fortifies our engagement of it.  There is also the added benefit of being less wasteful.

But before one can artfully articulate this technology one must familiarize oneself with it.  This is where my interest in the Minimal Dwelling project arises.  This project for a small transportable home made of found materials and employing systems designed for minimum energy consumption allows me to explore techniques of construction, materials, and systems that represent how these abstract constructs are actually achieved during this moment in our civilization’s life-cycle.  To approach practice in this way is to go beyond what the market requires.  To approach practice in this way sees the continuum and complexity of life as manifest in a single environment — to integrate, to enrich, and to challenge existing artificial dichotomies — to find and represent meaning in a syncretic act of design — to mix work and play — and to reclaim Arendt’s lost individuality by reasserting the storytelling role of Architecture in the public realm.

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