between here and there


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Knowledge equals Empowerment

  
Sometimes we need to learn things more than once in a lifetime. Of course some “lessons” we learn over and over again. In this instance, I am re-learning autocad. And it’s kind of like re-learning how to ride a bike with different gears. Even after twenty years not much in the mechanics of the program have changed. 

So watch out you youngsters, cuz I’ll be speeding by you soon. Just need to learn how to shift a few more gears! From concept to spec, I am gaining the power to tell the whole story. 

Knowledge is empowerment. A great lesson from Remote Studio. 

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Architecture and Modesty

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This weekend was full of work . I’m not complaining. But stating a fact. Part of the work is a modest design proposal for an addition to a house.

There are always lessons in everything we do. And this little design has reminded me of a few things I have known. Confirmed things I know even in a cobwebbed corner of my mind:

1. It is necessary to know when to respond with modesty over exuberance, no matter how talented a designer you are. And perhaps the lesson I needed to be reminded of. There is a certain critical effort that must be made to design thoughtfully while at the same time working from a place of restraint . Not all creative answers should be dominate , some should be quiet and simply fit in with what came before. This is the case for the addition I am working on.

The existing structure is a dynamic , yet simple, 1970 contemporary house. It’s dynamism is in it’s sweeping roof that is a singular gesture of form. On the rural landscape it’s primarily living area is visible as a single sharp pitched shed roof reaching from the ground and extending to the sky.

To take away this dynamic and singular move from the primary living volume by way of a bedroom addition would be disrespectful to the hierarchy of architectural expression . The best response is one of support. Of course making the overall building better, but not by making an over-expressive addition. Instead by making a better whole.

2. Most architects and designers work today with the use of the computer for 2-d drawings and models . And this had been my primary method for a decade . But with this small work I thought all handwork would be best, and faster. Because I teach architecture students I am well aware of their current use of computers, 3-d modeling and laser cutters. And I recognize the benefits of these tools, and use them myself. But the work this past weekend using pencil , paper, cutting blades and chipboard also reminded me how critical it is for creators to use their hands to understand their ideas, their work. From this process a clarity arrives, like the clarity we gain through concentrated meditation. The slowing down of the process in exchange for the immediacy of current technology asks us to think and be sure and clear of our decisions. The tactility of hand to brain connects us to the world in it’s reality like feet to a hiking trail, bringing connection and surety.

The process also reminded me of all the things I am capable of with my hands, the versatility of expression, creating, and making . And the deep knowledge I have collected over thirty years with my brain connected to the actions of my hands that allow me to make the art I currently pursue .

Mind to hand. We are makers in the world . There is no better substitution.


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Building Up

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The longer the winter the deeper the ground freezes, the deeper the hole for the foundation. It’s a simple correlation, all in an effort to keep the building from shifting and cracking during the freeze and thaw of the seasons.

The “footing” for the studio foundation was poured not long ago. Step one in a very stout foundation yet to come. Built nothing like a farmer or rancher would have built a cabin or barn a hundred years ago. Building codes make all the difference.


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Practice is Progress

design practice, by hand

design practice, by hand

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…


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Drawing the Next Reality

Design Sketch, Click Cabin

Design Sketch, Click Cabin

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.

 


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Manufactured Landscapes

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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.

The Wilderness that surrounds us

The Wilderness that surrounds us