Every second passes, and there was a before, now and after. Unrelenting. Unchanging. On every thing we see, hear, taste and touch. Time is universal. It is so pervasive, so overwhelming, that we often simply ignore it.
We want to live forever. We want to freeze time. We revel in the past, we want the past to disappear. We are terrified of the future, we are fully impatient to have the now be what is to come. And we are full on transfixed with death, when we allow ourselves to think about it.
What other force is so over-arching, constant, brutally impossible to overcome? Gravity.
Gravity is what architects are tasked to manipulate every day. Structural projection is not just for whole buildings, gravity is part of every piece set into every construction. Architects live through gravity.
But architects are either dismissive of history, or are completely controlled by it. Architects have evolved two orthodoxies, often mutually exclusive. Both fully ignore the reality of time. Either history is tantamount to intellectual dishonesty, sentimentality, or just laziness in uncreative mimicry, or it is the Truth, the unquestioned reality of what has been and survived judgment, history is the essence of beauty.
This binary: Traditional and Modern (above, Robert AM Stern imitating left, Eero Saarinen inventing on right) as twin powers of mutual Good and Evil – set in opposition, in contradistinction, set against each other to form an unavoidable life defining aesthetic devotion is sophistry.
Trying to design a building without understanding history is like trying to design a building without gravity. Trying to freeze the past in the present for the future is like pretending time is not real. The adolescent desire to find Orthodoxy is as human as any religion. That desire denies our humanity, but in architecture it denies the unavoidable truths of every part of our lives lived in the world’s of gravity and time.
There is another reality, a human reality that fully revels in the essential realities of time and gravity. Humans have senses they defy the natural state of every other sentient being. We have motivations beyond survival, and we have define outcomes beyond ourselves. This is one reason is the synthesis of what makes us human.
Why do we care about the motivations of our aesthetics to the point that the evolved aesthetic orthodoxies make the differences between them into heresies, where “Truth” (or “Lie”) in motivation is absolute? I think that we are scared of being “wrong”. Being “wrong” is fatal in an internet era that enables any differences to validate themselves in instant judgment. Validation or invalidation has the depth of a fact-check that can only perceive outcomes, not motivations.
Trying to perceive aesthetics without understanding motivations and relying on the singularity of outcomes puts architecture in the place of the “Dark” realities we know now comprise our universe. We can see design outcomes as we see those undefined “Dark” forces and matter that comprises 95% of the universe, but then we cannot know the motivations that made them. If 95% of our understanding is based on outcomes, when 95% of what we judge is based on motivations, only a faith-based interpretation is possible.
It is time to know that our motivations are fact. What we perceive and feel, how we respond is as factual as the 5%, our outcomes, that we can measure. We may never crack the code of the 95% of the “
Dark” universes of matter and energy, but we can know ourselves. If we deny our humanity and judge architecture by the measurables alone, when we are the sole creator of what we judge, then we lose the reality of what architecture is: human creation.
I see the human need to define aesthetics as being as essential as the fully embedded reality of music in our common outlook, despite being completely unnecessary to our survival. Just like our need to project “The God Particle” (The Higgs Boson Particle) as a key to ending faith by seeking verified proof in fact, there are realities that exist in our humanity that defy the mathematical or calculable validation and justification that academic understanding wants. https://www.custombuilderonline.com/guest-columnist-folly-style-202
I think Time and Gravity need to be understood before aesthetics and technology. They are not taught as fundamental, they are taught as things we learn to avoid, to manipulate to control. We do not control Time and Gravity, they control us.
Duo Dickinson, FAIA
Graduating from Cornell in 1977, Duo Dickinson opened his architectural practice in 1987. His work has received more than 30 awards and he is a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects. Much of his work is dedicated to pro bono or at-cost work for not-for-profits, totaling over 75 projects for over 30 organizations over the last 30 years. His design work has been published in more than 70 publications, he is the architecture writer for Connecticut Hearst Media Corp. and a staff feature writer for The Common Edge Collaborative and Mockingbird Ministries. He is a contributor to Arch Daily and has written for Archinect and other publications. His blog, Saved By Design has received over 100,000 hits in the last few years. Dickinson has also written eight books, the latest of which, A Home Called New England was nominated for a 2018 CT Book Award. He hosts the radio series “Home Page” on WPKN Radio. Dickinson has taught at Yale College and Roger Williams University. He is now on the faculty of the Building Beauty program at the Sant’Anna Institute, Sorrento, Italy as well as co-chair of their American Advisor Board and is teaching at the University of Hartford.