A few months ago I posted sketches for the new studio I am building next to my house. Today the work began. After a light snow the great whiteness was removed to expose the ground of winter.
Earth is dug out, boulders as big as a car hood are discovered. All earth is set to one side, while the snow pile is set to the other.
The process is all part of a larger practice. Practice of architecture, and imagining the future. A practice in faith that imbedding this idea for living with the land is a sound decision in this particular place.
How you understand the World has a lot to do with your personal mythology. A fact I didn’t think of specifically until I met Sambo Mockbee. He had many lessons to teach, more than just the necessity of architecture. One of these lessons was how his active imagination passed through his personal narrative, his own mythology that resulted in how he lived his life. Sambo, if you spoke to him much, would let you know, life all came down to the mother goddess.
From his vivid mythology I began to recognize my own. And I also recognized the importance and empowerment of living my mythology. From living our mythology our Truth comes alive. A few years after this recognition I came upon the need to mark the earth, to leave a name, a call to being. This call was the need to create notification for the non-profit I was founding. It did not take me long to determine it’s name: Artemis Institute.
Depending which era you rely on for the classical gods and goddesses, Artemis has a different role in the World. I choose the ancient and original responsibility she was given. Artemis, while she has expansive responsibilities, is the protector of the wilderness. She is not the Roman’s Diana, the protector of the Hunt, or those who are hunting. Artemis is deep in the woods, soft in the moss, hanging in the leaves, blue in the sky, watching for all the living creatures…remembering for us what today we forget and ignore: the need for the wild, the need to retain our own wildness. She is a protector, she is the magic that lies in our ancient memories of life before roads, buildings, and timekeeping. If we choose to honor and protect the wild, the wildness and the wild in ourselves – we are living the myth of Artemis. We are making real the magic of an idea of how to be in the world.
That’s right, designing “old-school” style. No computer. No immediate gratification. But work. Lead to paper. Is this progress? For those of us who still believe that there is a necessary connection between hand and head as it relates to knowing and thinking, this is design process, and progress. One and the same.
Does that mean that I don’t believe in computers? Well, I’m typing on one right now. What it means is that it is critical for us to know what is the correct tool for the work at hand. And there is the “hand” again, tied to work. Use your hands folks, don’t go into auto pilot when you work with that 3-d modeling program. Engage with yourself and the world. Feel it through the work, that makes the work a practice.
More design work on the new studio that we will break ground on in the next few months…
A critical aspect of designing architecture is that at it’s very nature the process creates tangible reality through it’s physical expression. Both understanding the existing conditions of the place and how the potential design fits into the place along with the ephemeral experience of life, changes reality, and is the great value and necessity of architecture. In its most positive propositions, these changes in our reality provide aspects of positive cultural transformation that change the way that we see the world and ourselves in it.
For the designer, the process is one of the great adventures of life.
What we know, we can practice. We know ways of being, we practice these. These practices add up to a life, lived. We learn, believe and live differently. We practice our differences, and if we practice diligently there is a unique presence that comes to live on the Earth for a while. Practice has success, failure, sharing, love, making and challenge all wrapped up in time. We transform as we practice, as we move through the world every day. These posts found under “PRACTICE” are shared thoughts about practicing, and moments of my practice.
Let us all be brave to find the best way for each of us to Practice, to create a life that is full of moments of who we are.
I’ve lived in Montana since 1998. When I arrived there was still a realness, a grittiness to the place, that, as I look around today, seems to be slipping quietly away. What is disappearing is that sense of a community when folks have slowly built up their surroundings responding organically to the place in which they live. The growth over time that occurs as people scrape together their savings to open a mercantile, or a bakery, or build their home. These are individuals who become a collective, who put down roots, people who truly commit and live in the place of their business. The collective of place that I am missing today evolves beyond the hands of trained designers who have learned to execute an industrialized model for living. What I see today are the designed landscapes that have vegetation spaced correctly, trees and shrubs (not bushes) growing from a pattern of circles specified while looking down at a two-dimensional drawing instead of making decisions while standing on the ground, designers who have the landscape smoothed and weeded, and de-wrinkled the nature of the place.
I know, you’re saying to yourself , she’s just romanticizing the past. But I don’t believe that’s what is happening. Instead, I am witnessing my hometown of Bozeman transform into the sameness of the industrialized American development model. These are the manufactured landscapes that support the commercial and economic successes of Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, World Market, The Gap, and Starbucks (yes we finally have them here, too). These are the places that now look the same across the United States. The trees and shrubs that decorate and edge these big box stores ring them like imitation stones of cheap jewelry. The curb cuts and edging and bark islands, the four layers of vegetation from Trees, to shrub, to some ambiguous flowering plant selected for its long blooms and easy maintenance growing up against bermuda grass or its equal, these living things are used to make a new place that we know, but not really. The easily recognizable non-place. A place that is everywhere but nowhere. A place that makes us feel comfortable so that we easily slip into the ridiculously large parking lots of suburban America without question so that we can happily pop into the big box store of choice. And as we drive in we think, isn’t this pretty, with the greenness of the world around us. When actually, we are just holding nature hostage for our own use, our own manufactured excuse of a natural landscape.
Who is to blame for all of this? We are. We all are, every time we forget where we are as we slip into that lull of commercialism that makes us feel better, or even good about shopping for things we don’t necessarily need. We, the designers, are responsible because we have passively accepted the instruction of “how to design” the edges of these places, that we have followed city planners who have created such sweet little places for their community to come and go from. We are responsible because we are not getting out into the wild enough to recognize the difference, or care about the difference of what this lack of understanding does to us or our impact on the world. We are, because we fail to recognize that we continue to use the natural world in ways that discourage and erase our sense of being a part of a larger whole, instead encouraging even the simplest use of the living world in dishonorable ways.
If we do care, how do we find that integrity of place, how do we retain it? How do we respect these places in their specificity and richness of conditions while knitting together our sense of belonging to these places, too? How do we honor where we live, and how do we create them?
Perhaps we start by not fully and completely erasing the world that appears scrubby and unresolved, the place that is living, cyclical, jagged, and constantly changing. The place that was here before we moved in, before we used that can of upside down marking paint and staked the land. We can start by standing, feet on the ground as Ed Abbey said, and feeling and observing and learning the world around us. By not accepting the lessons that we are taught at school without question, the lessons that are same all over, lessons of ubiquity for providing generalized backdrops where we live. By valuing the need to take time, to live local. To live the local, not the commercial, to live the place, not the sameness that is expanding across the United States.
I think you know what I’m talking about. If not take a look around. If your hometown looks like the one down the road you are living in a Manufactured Landscape. If not, then there is still time to give deep consideration, time and commitment to where you live, to not erase the community that already lives there, all of it, plants and animals alike.
Before you arrive, I want to give you a little bit of context on this studio. I assume everyone has reviewed Remote Studio on the Artemis Institute web site. If not, you should. You will be better prepared to learn and discuss the more you understand the program. Read some of my essays on the website if you have the time. In brief, the Remote Studio and its format are developed out of ideas for teaching design from previous experiences and my PhD research. The program is an alternative to the abstract-rationalistic and scientific organization of teaching that pervades university programs. The course sequence will be orchestrated through hands-on, first person experiences from which each of you will gain unique and personal knowledge. One of the primary focuses is to help students re-engage with the rest of the world and the intuitive intellect. It is my belief that a good way to proceed is to provide students with inspiring and unknown environments, where their expectations have not been specified with “what to expect” lectures, and pragmatic projects. I also believe that the best way to understand your ideas is not through mock or “virtual” projects, but through hands-on immediate projects that are the intentional result of your imagination and reflections. We will discuss these ideas at length during the semester.
With these interests in mind I ask you to understand and accept that the studio may not always run smoothly, not only due to the nature of this type of educational model, but because of the context of real life: clients, weather, materials, people, etc. Certain dates will be scheduled such as the trips, but the itinerary for the trips will not be completely delineated. Sometimes the weather does not cooperate and we change the dates of hikes. The small individual project schedule (called vessels) and reading will be fairly well determined, but are always subject to change if we decide they just are not serving us best, or discussions need to be shifted to accommodate clients or weather. If you are some one who requires notification of a complete plan this studio process may put you on edge. From this experience it is possible you will learn something new about yourself. It is important that studio members communicate well with one another, this means good communication with me and anyone assisting you from the Artemis Institute. If we have good communication we will learn the most from one another.
In 2014 I am thinking about my past decisions, what has driven my professional choices, and I am thinking about where I am right now in my career, the choices I have made, what I have committed to. I am thinking about these things because I am looking toward the future and want to make sure I am still headed in a direction that I remain committed to. Over the year I would like to cover some of the intellectual ground that has influenced me. And if I am lucky some of my insights may inspire and encourage yours.
I started Artemis Institute because I want change the World. I didn’t start Artemis Institute simply to educate better designers, but to educate designers who think differently about the world, differently about themselves in the world. To lead more passionate and committed lives. To be empowered, to believe that they can change the world from their core beliefs to their actions. To gain mental and physical abilities to fuel the change. To provide an entry point into the world that inspires people who commit to a way of living that is beyond the self reference that is so dominate in today’s modern society. To create a world that grows from a sense of passion, love, and responsibility for others.
As I reflect, I don’t believe I was or am well equipped to drive the mission of Artemis Institute. What I mean by this, is that to start Artemis Institute was essentially to start a business, a big idea business, not a little idea business that follows a trend, or fits in an existing niche. Artemis Institute is not a spinoff of an existing company, not a special department or program in a University. Instead we are out in the world making our own waves and charting our own trajectory with no obvious path. More difficult is that Artemis Institute , as a big idea business, lies in the realm of educational altruism. Which, in our capitalist world means, non-profit. I wasn’t and never have been highly motivated by money, or making a profit. Instead I am interested in educating for the future, educating to change the world. But I have learned what having or not having money to spend means when searching for a way to create change in the world. If your goal is to change the world people need to know you exist. Needs to know your mission. Needs to know you mean “business.” In our multi-media culture, a culture that has all options at their finger tips, while at the same time being overwhelmed with the barrage of “campaigns” that exist from which shoes you should buy to which friend’s picture you should “like” finding a way for Artemis Institute to carry its message across state lines, national boundaries, the World Wide Web, different Eco-regions, oceans, and places has been a challenge. Primarily a challenge because with little funding to “campaign” not only is it difficult to help people learn about us, it is difficult to have people recognize the need to participate in the educational vision.
When I look back over the past six years I can hardly believe we are still standing. Not because the mission isn’t solid, but because my interest in education for the future runs against the overwhelming campaign of the “self.” Because in the end, Artemis Institute is me. It is an idea that grows from my beliefs, my sense of how the world should be, how we need to change to make the world a better place for all. However, we are still standing because there have been a few people who believe in me, believe in my ideas, and the founding of Artemis Institute, who have made sure that we have survived while I have been primarily focused on teaching Remote Studio, not campaigning for the non-profit These people have not been shy with their support, support I honor best by getting up every morning and continuing to believe in the need for change, and the ability to support a new vision of living and the world in the people who spend time exploring reality through the ideas of Artemis Institute.
And I imagine that these ideas may often seem cloudy to those I teach. They seem cloudy because I am more introspective than extroverted. And I believe that the best learning we do comes from teaching ourselves in an environment that supports our desire to learn. I think the outward visibility of the conventional education model simply misses the development of the individual. We may learn facts, and data, and context and history. But we learn very little about who we are, how we relate to the world and what effect we can have on others and the world. Our education system spends very little time preparing dreamers. We teach people how to look backwards. We prepare people for the “work force” we train people to be productive in the current framework of society. But dreaming is not encouraged, even when you are studying in a creative field today dreaming is being replaced with the idea of problem solving. There is a difference. Problem solving addresses the apparent issues, dreaming looks into the future to the world that is on the way. We need both: problem solving and dreaming.
But what is less valuable is educating people to simplistically fit the work force, the immediate needs. Because this educational attitude cuts short people’s ability to remain viable contributors in the future, instead only considering them as commodities. As a commodity we disregard our potential for participating in the making of the future. Without developing the ability to think like a visionary, to believe in vision and to believe in the ability to effect change we end up with a society that is defacto lazy, uninspired and without passion. Passion, I believe, is not a self-reflective condition, but passion is engaged when we look beyond ourselves and begin to recognize connections or potential connection between ourselves and the World. Instead of passion however, we have been educating toward selfishness, the non-motivated, and self-referential act of being lazy. Trading our potential for commodity.
The new world has the potential to be full of passion and vibrancy. And in order for the planet to remain viable we require these attributes. For without them we remain self-focused, self- preferential, lazy and selfish. We make poor choices for the whole. we make choices that exclude the rest, the world beyond the self. With the outward attributes of passion and vibrancy we commit to a world beyond ourselves, we dream of a world that can be more than its current present, and we believe in our ability to enact these changes. We recognize a world that is whole, interconnected and reliant on the health and value of all parts.
This is Artemis Institute. This is the belief system that supports the mission that there is a relationship between nature and culture, the world as its exists and the world that we make from our practices. A healthy, passionate and inspired culture does not evolve only in reference to itself, but evolves as we interact and live in the vibrant world around us.
I started with remote studio, which is an immersive design education program not only because these are my roots, but also because decisions about design are decisions about how we interact, impact and relate to the world around us. How we understand these decisions and how we understand ourselves in relation to the world and these decisions play a huge part in how the rest of the human population experiences themselves in the world. Where and how we live becomes how we are a part of or apart from the rest of the world.
Now it is your turn to think about how you live, the choices you make, where you invest your passion or if you are passionless. This is the time to think about how you are in the world and how you want to be in the future.