Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Paean to Design

Most of us architects go into the field because of our love of design.  As youngsters we visited a beautiful building or city, or in my case, picked up a book on Frank Lloyd Wright (in high school), have been building with blocks/legos/couch cushions in endless permutations for years, and draw, draw, draw...whether it's Wright or Gehry or Palladio that inspired us, we, too, want to create something great.  We're convinced that design matters. There's a saying in preservation circles: "it's not good because it's old, it's old because it's good."  The same case can be made for good design vs. mediocrity.  A big part of sustainability, after all, is to build something that will stand the test of time!  But then there's the next level, the one we really aspire to: design that has such a sense of timelessness, correctness, and beauty, that it takes on a life of its own, with the identity and importance of an organic entity.  Not all buildings are meant to be foreground buildings or monuments, but even those that are part of a fabric can have this timeless or organic quality.

One of my inspirations is Japanese design, in part because of its purposeful handling of minimal elements, and in part because of the value placed on the garden/microcosm: no matter how small, there is a connection to a larger natural world.  There is an enhanced sense of meaning when extraneous elements are pared away, and the necessary elements are well wrought.  I'll never forget the day, about in the middle of my year at Taliesin West, that I realized how fundamental Wright's desert buildings were: there was no veneer, no extra layers, the rambling compound perfectly fit the site, and it was built of local materials; it felt like the earth speaking through architecture.  The same sense you get in Chartres.  Is there any reason we shouldn't have this in our homes and businesses?  Does it cost more?  No, but it takes inspiration, time, and care.  It takes design.