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It is the Enviable Architect who gets to Stay on Deck and Burn October 27, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, architecture industry, career, change, identity, survival, the economy, transformation.
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This post will introduce a very short poem.

One that I feel perfectly captures the predicament architects find themselves in today.

But first, a few words about change.                    

As in What will it take for architects to change?

Let’s start by removing the word “change.”

Changing the word change.

Architects don’t like the word any more than anyone else.

Change itself is stressful and just the word alone has been known to raise one’s blood pressure.

And fight or flight response.

So what will it take for architects to evolve?

In order to transform, the pain of remaining the way we are has to be stronger than the pain of doing things differently.

From what I have seen and heard, architects have reached their pain threshold.

We’re crying Uncle.

Ready for the next step in our ongoing evolution.

Bring on the Next Age.

The next stage in our development.

Is architecture a burning platform?

The term burning platform in business parlance means immediate and radical change due to dire circumstances.

Radical change in architects only comes when survival instincts trump comfort zone instincts.

When making major decisions or solving major problems a sense of urgency is required to achieve one’s goals.

Despite the hardships we face and have faced for the past several years, most of us have felt more of a numbness than any real urgency.

As though our eyes were transfixed on a nearby fire.

When it is we ourselves who are engulfed  in flames.

Architects who would like an excuse to stay on deck

Thinking about architects and our situation today reminded me of a poem I’ve long loved.

A poem by one of the 20th century’s most esteemed poets – a poet’s poet – Elizabeth Bishop.

The poem is entitled Casabianca.

Four sentences.

Goes like this:

Casabianca

Love’s the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite `The boy stood on
the burning deck.’ Love’s the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love’s the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love’s the burning boy.

If one would judiciously liken the poor boy in the poem to the architect today.

And substitute the boy’s burning love for the architect’s passion.

The poem could be about the architect’s inability to describe, explain and justify their relevance – while crisis ensues all around.

Crisis of identity, of economy, you name it.

Who we are. What we are.

Where we belong. Whether we belong.

The poem would then be structured from the individual, into the world, returning to the architect in the final line.

As with the architect’s creative process, the lens of this poem widens from the architect to everything else and then, finally, back to the architect.

Something we often forget, and don’t give ourselves enough credit for:

Architecture begins and ends with the architect.

I know. There’s no architecture without a willing client.

And someone has to build the darned thing.

But while the building may belong to the world at large, architecture largely remains in our domain.

The poem’s build from the poor boy – and then back to the burning boy – is what makes this poem a whole, complete and memorable work of art.

Something the architect (stammering elocution) knows a little about.

I really miss architecture.

I envy you who despite all give it your all every day.

For it is the enviable architect who gets to stay on deck and burn.

On the New Pragmatism September 13, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, fiction, function, pragmatism, transformation, transition.
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It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

With summer unofficially over, school back in session, and the light of day dwindling we find that we have to be all the more observant of how we spend our time. We tell ourselves that we have to make everything we do, every activity, every task, matter – or it is out of our regiment, we don’t have time for it.

The marketing and advertising world has picked-up on this rather 21st century tick of ours – call it multi-tasking, call it our striving for meaning-over-money – by renaming otherwise familiar products in the name of function.

One example are the so-called functional­ foods  or “smart” foods and beverages that line grocery shelves containing “functional” ingredients touted to help protect your heart and vision, keep our gastrointestinal tract healthy, and even boost our immune system. Sales of these foods topped $25 billion last year despite not all health claims being substantiated.

Another example has crept up on the job hunters who are being forced to recreate their resumes. The functional resume format – one of several resume layouts including reverse chronological (listing all your experience from most to least recent) and functional, which lists experience in skills clusters. For those finding that they need to update their old resume – including those with very diverse experiences that don’t add up to a clear-cut career path – a functional format could be considered.

Form Follows Function

Ever since Louis Sullivan touted these words, architects have by turns been instructed to design buildings in the name of function [and of late finance.] We’ve been told that if you give your form – however subjective and intuitive, discretionary or ill-conceived – a purpose, a justification, a use – you can sell it and see it built. Whether real or fictional, function has been top of mind for architects – at least in their social interactions – for well over 100 years.

On this anniversary of 9/11 we recall a time soon after the attacks when irony was pronounced dead and fiction reading has dropped by double digits while nonfiction hung tough. People wanted their information and they wanted it straight. Sales of fiction suffered almost immediately after the attacks. Escapism and entertainment were thought to be secondary if not unnecessary distractions. We were living in a time of war and information was at a premium.

After 9/11 those who associated fiction with the frivolous fueled a unexpected resurgence for poems.   Readers still wanted their nonfiction piled on but kept Auden’s September 1, 1939 or Wislawa Szymberska’s Poems New and Collected by their night stand. Poetry was one exception for it soothed the soul and, perhaps ironically, kept us rooted in the moment.

If they read fiction at all – novels, short stories, drama – it had to be informative, informational, instructive in some way,. For our time was short at hand and the end perhaps all too near. Call it “functional fiction” –fiction that is useful – fiction you can use. Stories that if they entertained did so while providing nuggets of truths or at least truisms we could take with us to work in the morning. Tales, if they carried us away to distant lands, did so clearly spelling out the lay of the land, recommending places to stay and sights to see: novel as travelogue.

And poetry? Not just for your nightstand anymore, Poem in your Pocket – a book of 200 poems you can tear out one at a time and put in your pocket – is available for those who need the feeling of inner security not found in the outside world.  They’re available in bite size poems for your kids  as well.

NonfictionFiction

Which takes us to two novels – both current bestsellers – to help to illustrate this point.

In Nicholson Baker’s latest novel, The Anthologist, we meet Paul Chowder at a rather tough time in his life as he shares – in an often very funny stream of consciousness – his woes and his knowledge of poetry. While you are being amused and entertained – watch out – you will be left by book’s end with a veritable college education in poets, contemporary and classical, poetry writing and appreciation. The book will have you compulsively seeking out poets and poems as a music review has you do for songs on iTunes. While thoroughly enjoying yourself you will acquire an expert and splendid education in poetry writing and reading.

Such is also the case in fiction writer Lorrie Moore’s just-released novel, A Gate at the Stairs. One of the few short story and novel writers that continuously keeps readers in stitches, here she seems to have a keen sense of the need for fiction to function beyond the tasks of storytelling. As pointed out in a recent review in the New York Times, while the book has been called “heartbreaking” and her “masterpiece,” and while it is every bit as punny and funny as her other fictions, the intrusion of the real world – and by that I mean international affairs, wars and real-time events – leaves one with the feeling that in order too stay relevant – and read – the work had to allow nonfiction in. Strike it up to another example of NonfictionFiction.

How to Decide

It is hard not to feel that something has been lost in the translation – from a more or less pure fiction that purported to carry us away, to involve our imagination and fantasies and, yes, at times, allow us escape from the humdrum or overly demanding worlds we have come to know and be a part of. That everything must mean, and teach, and instruct, and deliver – puts not only an unnecessary demand on authors but on readers as well. It is as though too often fun has been left out of the stuff of fiction and been replaced by the news.

So how to decide – not only what to read – but what to include in your already overly crammed life and what to exclude? In lieu of function I suggest we turn to pragmatism. An enlightened Pragmatism. By asking yourself three inimitably essential questions of the choices you confront on a daily basis, you will find in time that your life is filled – not with trivia and facts – but with activities, occasions and opportunities that are physically, mentally and spiritually uplifting, supportive of who you are and want to become and life-enhancing.

These simple questions are potentially life-changing – so do add them to your arsenal now but only use them when you are ready to move forward with your life:

1. Is it nurturing?

2. Is it growth-promoting?

3. Does it work for me?

These three simple inquiries – when answered – have worked for me every time for well over twenty years. Do you have questions you ask yourself to help you make important decisions in your life?