This post is part of a coalition of architects posting on a single topic, each interpreting it in their own way, known as Architalks. This month the topic is your “favorite place”
What is my favorite place? Easy…my own mind.
Now, I know that sounds egotistical, indulgent, possibly narcissistic, and quite probably what you’d expect from a film noir archetypal mad scientist, but it’s true.
I grew up a daydreamer. My mind was rarely in the here, and the now, and I loved every second of it. I played with LEGOs and video games, but I loved to create, loved to imagine, more than anything. Architecture is fundamentally a creative act that requires a lot of thought, a lot of focused contemplation. Everyone finds their own way, some sketch, some build models (3D or physical), Wil Alsop even begins with painting, I don’t…I think.
I can generate schemes fast internally, faster than I can sketch, faster than I can model. I experiment, I test, I construct, I deconstruct. I get them to a point and file them away for when I’m back at my desk or in front of my sketchbook where I document them. Most of my best ideas come when I’m driving to work, or walking the dog or in a meeting or conference that doesn’t have my attention. We live in a world of infinite distractions, where there is always an opportunity for something to assail our thoughts, confront our intellect, divert our attention, and finding moments for the mind to rest is difficult.
When I was 21, I went on an Outward Bound trip in the mountains of Montana. Part of that experience is often the “solo” where participants go off by themselves for a day, or maybe several. I spent 24 hours in two feet of snow with only a blue tarp and my wits, no TV, no music, no books, no friends, nothing but me and myself. It was one of the best experiences of my life. When you’re forced to just stop and think, creativity flows. I like people, I have a lot of friends, but the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts is just as important.
When the early paragons of our Profession, the Corbusier’s, the Wrights, confronted their Architecture, it didn’t start with the URL for Archdaily, they didn’t flip open the latest magazine, or grab a tablet to peruse their Houzz app. It’s difficult to find that time, to avoid the distractions, but it’s important, and I think it leads to better, less derivative design.
At work, when I hit a mental block, I go for a walk. The building our office is in roughly forms a Y space, 2 levels of occupied space and a partially below-grade parking garage. In seven minutes I can walk to the end of the top floor, down the stairs, traverse the first floor to the opposite end, then down to the garage, back off to the opposite end, back up the stairs and finally down again to our office. I don’t listen to any music, I don’t check my phone, I just walk, and think. I’m that weird guy staring at my feet when you pass. You probably smiled, I probably didn’t respond, and you probably assume I’m just shy, or a jerk. In truth, I probably didn’t even notice you, but when I get back to my office, I usually have a few good solutions to test.
I don’t go to lunch with people a lot. I’m collaborating with people all day, and I like to have a break in the middle of it. We have a park really close to the office, and when the weather is nice (or even when it’s not), I’ll head out there and go for a walk and just think. Sometimes it’s about work, sometimes it isn’t.
But by far, my absolute favorite time for this is that 15-20 minutes in bed before I fall asleep. There’s nothing I can do, nothing I need to worry about, nothing but me and my thoughts, like a little pause between days to think and contemplate. I can reflect on what happened today, think about what I can do tomorrow, revel in a story I read or relive a movie I watched. I love it.
I encourage everyone to take a break from the distractions from time to time.
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