Being of Three Minds June 7, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, essence, identity, software architects, technology.
Tags: and venustas, art, artist, design, firmitas, software architects, The Two Cultures C.P.Snow, utilitas, Vitruvius
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Technology is […] a queer thing. It brings you gifts with one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.
While being interviewed the other day for an article about my blogs, I was asked about their genesis: What had provoked me to write them?
Explaining how my other blog http://bimandintegrateddesign.com/ came about was easy.
Architects and other design professionals have to deal with change from new disruptive technologies and work processes.
My other blog exists to help fellow professionals confront the forces that create an immunity to change – forces brought about by fear, hesitancy, uncertainty or misinformation.
What makes an architect an architect?
The original purpose of this blog – Architects 2 Zebras – was different.
It came about in order to identify and discuss what it is exactly that all architects have in common.
In other words – what makes an architect an architect – irrespective of what type of architect they are.
Instead of focusing on who stole who’s thunder and identity and reclaiming “our” title back, this was to be a blog focused on what architects of all stripes have in common and what we can learn from each other.
In the 18 months since the first post, the term “architect” has become increasingly common with non-design entities and many design architects resent this.
But it is not just the title design architects are concerned about – nor the inconvenience of doing a job search only to come up with IT positions.
Some design architects wonder if software architects have not only usurped design architect’s title but in doing so their mojo?
A Tale of Two Bookshelves
One only need visit any of the big box bookstores in the U.S. to witness two very different circumstances.
On the one hand, books on technology, computing, software and social networking are thriving.
Where sold copies are replaced as soon as those on display are depleted.
At the bookstores I’ve visited architecture-related books told a different story.
The shelves where architecture, interior design and planning books are displayed have been decimated, the few remaining titles left in disarray.
This could be seen as a positive sign – one, say, of strong sales – were it not for the fact that these shelves remain unreplenished.
Or perhaps a reflection of the buying power of the two architects at this time in history? Perhaps.
A situation all the more disconcerting for someone like myself who plans on having a book published and displayed on such a shelf in the coming year.
A Third Culture
“The third culture consists of scientists and other thinkers who are taking the place of the “traditional intellectuals” in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”
John Brockman, The Third Culture
Good packages – like omens and wishes – come in threes (BIM, IPD and LEED come to mind.)
Thirds in fact seem to be popping up everywhere these days.
With owners and contractors, architects often feel like the Third wheel.
There are the Third world impacts from globalization to contend with.
We’re planning the Third chapters of our careers.
Our current focus in architecture on the virtual representation of the Third dimension.
The Third Teacher (a marvelous must-have book on design of schools and education by Bruce Mau with OWPP/Cannon Design)
A Third Way
And some less relevant to our discussion:
Why My Third Husband Will be a Dog
A Tale of Two Cultures
Design architects like to say that architecture is both an art and science – both of the humanities and of the sciences – the two cultures first identified by C.P. Snow in his seminal lecture and subsequent essay The Two Cultures published 50 years ago.
It’s a reflection based on the premise that intellectual life was divided into two cultures: the arts and humanities on one side and science on the other.
Software architects on the other hand associate themselves with technology, a culture not yet represented by design architect’s two cultures.
Until now, that is.
In the intervening years since Snow’s lecture, third cultures of course have been proposed, generally termed “social science” and comprised of fields such as sociology, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology.
As mentioned earlier in this post, my other blog focuses on this third culture: the social implications of technology on design professionals, firm culture, organizations, and the profession and construction industry as a whole.
But the social impacts are a result – a symptom that needs to be addressed – not the cause.
The cause is the technology that seems all but inescapable in the practice of our art and science.
So I wonder if for architects our third culture is something closer to that of technology?
To be sure, one could argue that technology has been with us all along, as the so-called science of architecture is building science, otherwise known as building technology.
But there’s no mistaking the fact that with the advent of BIM and other IT-related tools, architects have started to wonder:
Whether our profession now comprises all three cultures: art, science and technology?
And if it does – does one take precedence over the other?
Or is it – like Vitruvius’ triumvirate – more a matter of maintaining a balance?
firmitas, utilitas and venustas
Commodity, firmness and delight – structural stability, spatial accomodation and attractive appearance – have been called architecture’s ultimate synthesis.
Roughly speaking – these three terms mirror architect’s three cultures: art, science and technology.
Could it be with the advent of new technologies and the collaborative work processes enabled by them that we as professionals are finally in a position to achieve Vitruvius’ ideal?
Perhaps it would be helpful for architects to think of themselves as being of three minds?
To think of ourselves as having an art mind, a science mind – which we already possess – and a technology mind.
To see technology as less of a threat and rather as something that was there all along – helping us to stay balanced.
And in doing so garner some of that technology mojo for ourselves?
delightful, delovely, design
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.
R. Buckminster Fuller
Building science and digital technology both require that the architect have a strong grasp of how buildings are put together.
One cannot use digital tools, let alone practice architecture, without a thoroughly understanding – in minute detail – how buildings are constructed.
With technology and building science covered – let’s turn our attention to Vitruvius’ venustas or beauty, art, appearance.
You could argue – with Bucky Fuller – that once structure and function have been addressed the resulting building will inevitably be beautiful.
But I’m not going to do that here.
I’m going to suggest you do something else instead.
This week – I am going to ask you to acknowledge and honor yourself and as an artist and as a designer: your art mind, if you will.
What resides deep inside – after the documents have been coordinated and submitted, and work out in the field has been observed – what in you remains.
You know what I am talking about.
It has gone on for too long underserved, unacknowledged – by others, certainly, but admittedly by yourself as well.
How to go about honoring ourselves as designers and artists that we as architects truly are?
Each of us has our own way of going about this.
Pour a cup or glass and flip through the pages of The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture.
Or a book on Italian Hill towns.
Or head out to visit your favorite building in person. And really spend some time there.
Or volunteer at one of the many architecture boot camp summer programs taking place at many of the colleges and universities across the states.
Fill a sketchbook with ideas you have been meaning to explore.
However you choose to honor yourself, take the time – this week – to honor the small, still voice that resides in you that wants to be heard.
What have you done lately to address and honor your artistic side?
Architects have been criticized for being “artists” when others needed us to be responsible constructors and business partners.
We’ve convinced ourselves to work clandestine as artist/architects, under the radar.
So as not to let on that we’re duplicitous in our motives, representing not only our clients but also the call of our higher selves.
Do this one thing for yourself this week.
As with any threesome, art is threatened to be overcome by the two bolder – and seemingly more objective – of the three cultures: science and technology.
Art almost always loses out to the larger, more vocal forces.
We tell ourselves that – as with Fuller – art will be served by our working within constraints, meeting objectives, representing the health, safety and welfare of the building’s inhabitants.
This is just something we tell ourselves. But it never is.
Next week you can be an architect of three minds – art, science and technology.
This week – go out and let your inner architect play.
For those of us who don’t get to design every day, it remains critical to our identity, role, essence – our satisfaction, well-being and happiness – that we honor our artistic side.
Our art mind.
So get in touch with what truly mattered to you when you first started out.
And matters to you still.
Do this one thing for yourself this week.
Next week you can go back to the rigor and challenge of living and working within the three cultures.
If not now, when?