07 April 2011

Architectural Unrest


As I have been reading up on John Lloyd Wright recently I was struck by a comment in his book of an experience we had shared in our young architectural careers. Architecture for me has been nearly a life-long pursuit since I understood at an early age there was a sort of "architectural unrest". It was trips to Indianapolis to visit my grandparents, or through Indy on our way to Bloomington that I realized my interest in architecture. As we would drive down Meridian Street, north of I-465, and I studied the boxy new buildings that sprung up overnight I thought to myself “geesh, I can do at least that good”. And so I began designing homes and buildings when I was about 14 years old; I still have that first sketch book filled with floor plans and elevations. It was only a few years later that I also realized that early periods of American architecture also interested me. Possibly due to my love of history, soon I began to study old buildings and developed a real love for preservation. I subscribed to Colonial Homes magazine and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s magazine when just a junior in high school. You would think that I would gravitate toward a profession in architecture, but I loved business and I can vividly recall my dad responding to me when I said that I wanted to be an architect: “architects come a dime a dozen”. And so, I put my architecture education on hold for four years while I received my business degree.




Near the end of my business schooling I realized I still had the itch to pursue architecture, so I enrolled in Andrews University's School of Architecture. The first design problem we had was for a small home. The professor made his rounds and looked at the work on my drafting table, then looked at me, then back at my work and made the comment "someone has done this before". The next five years I honed my skills and developed a pretty strong philosophy on architecture born out of almost cumbersome convictions. After I graduated, for good or bad, I ended up back in my hometown-something I considered a dream come true.


My second day on the job-exactly 2 days after graduation-the boss dropped a file folder on my desk and said it was for a client who had a lake house that burned down and they wanted to replace it. I was stoked-most archi grads don't get their own design projects for a few years after graduation and this was day 2. So I let loose all of the "creative genius" stored up from 5 years of architecture school and came up with a design that blended the history of the former house built by the client's grandfather, with the loss, but also an eye to the future. It was embedded with this "story" and a great deal of quiet purposeful decisions born from an adherence to Christopher Alexander's theories on architecture....two of his books are sitting on the shelf above me right now.


So the house was built, and I couldn't stay away from watching it come together. I remember one afternoon after work making my way to the site and walking around the shell, putting my hands into the window openings and studying the views from different vantage points. I went back to my loft apartment and wrote extensively about the experience that night. And that was the experience I shared with John Lloyd Wright. Wright wrote about doing this very same thing and called it "the closest thing to a spiritual experience" he had known. I still think fondly of that house on the lake and smile when I pass by it because I know the "story" behind the house. I know its intricacies and the reason it looks and functions like it does that the homeowner may not understand consciously, but probably in their subconscious are quite satisfied.




It is hard to explain the great personal satisfaction in seeing something imagined, then placed on paper, rise from the ground. It's like walking through someone's creative soul. Maybe it's like a farmer who walks through a corn field prior to harvest, or a mechanic who revs an engine brought back from the dead. It is a grand experience and I'm thankful God wired me in such a way to create.

3 comments:

vanilla said...

How gratifying it must be to see you work standing proudly years after your effort. Well done.

jimgrey said...

One nice thing about living away from the Major Centers of Things is that the younguns can find opportunity. I've found the same in my software career, as Indiana is hardly the first place people think of when they think software.

I remember when I freelanced as an author how cool it was to find my books in the bookstore, so I can imagine your pride when you drive by this house. Of course, houses are hardier than technology books. I've already experienced the disappointment of finding my books in the discount bin - the equivalent of your house being abandoned and falling into dilapidation. May that not happen to this house, even through your grandchildren's lifetimes!

hoosier reborn said...

Hey, thanks for the comments, and yes, Jim-I could see where an author & book would have a similar experience.