Things I love #3: The sound of rain by George Qin

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Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life
— Confucius

I’d like to take a bit of time to write about my relationship with my profession. Architecture has never felt like work or a career path to me. I used to think that I chose Architecture because it was my calling, but now I think - perhaps architecture chose me. To describe it as anything less than something at the core of my being would be selling it short. To me, architecture is an expression of love.

What the hell is this guy smoking?
— you right now, probably
The first people (those who crawled out of the caves and into the daylight) built houses- not for themselves, but for the ones that they loved.
— A vague memory from an architecture lecture I once attended as a student to which I was only half paying attention, given by a lecturer who I don’t remember. But I think it was a man. And I think he was old. Also I may have dreamed up the entire thing, since the other half of me was asleep.

The concept of a house encapsulates our need for more than just shelter: the hope for a better living standard, a refuge from the world when it becomes too much to bear, and the spirit (or ‘essence’) of a home. Because home isn't a place. Home is a feeling. It’s an attachment so deeply rooted into our psychology that the very thought of having a home to return to is a comforting emotional anchor. (That’s why a large problem with homelessness is mental illness. Not having a safe physical space of one’s own to keep grounded can really affect mental stability.) It isn’t strange that in some cultures, a house or an apartment is considered a customary wedding gift to a spouse. It’s a physical manifestation of their care, their wish to provide security and comfort. A house is the starting point for a home, and a home is the starting point for a family.

Of course, as time marched on, people eventually needed more typologies of living spaces. People needed places to shop or trade. They needed places to work and places to learn. Places to eat. Places to see art and experience history. To swim, exercise, play sports, laugh, be entertained, heal, play music, dance, party, make love, read books, relax… Places to experience the nuances and aspects of life. Places to live. (And even- somewhere to urinate and defecate)

And that’s what architects are supposed to be: Experts at living. When someone talks to me about “End-user focused, data-driven design”, what I actually hear is: “We care about how people live, and we want to create beautiful spaces built around that concept”. And that, truly is something to be admired. That’s why it’s so important to listen to people. To be aware of all the forces that mould and shape a design. From building codes to infrastructure, to politics, to economics, to engineering and services design, to acoustic and privacy concerns, to environmental laws and waste management strategies, to law and standards, to materials and aesthetics; to people (and sometimes, pets and animals too).

Experts often have a difficult time defining what architecture even is, because it can be so difficult to draw the defining line between architecture and everything else. Is architecture the building that exists in solid brick, concrete, glass and steel? Or is it the negative spaces, the spaces that these things enclose and shelter, the spaces that we actually occupy and experience? Is it a malleable process of continuous review, rationalisation and contextualisation? Or is it just the final product, as built, and invoiced for? Or is it more ephemeral than all of that? Just that indescribable je ne sais quoi  that gives us a sense of place. The answer to all of that, is 'Yes'. Architecture is everything and nothing, simultaneously. Just as vacuous and empty as the streetscape that surrounds it, only a little more.. beautiful.

-but Architecture isn’t about all of that. Architecture is about Art. And Art is about Life.
— From another one of those lectures, but this time it was a woman. brunette, probably in her early 40’s by now. I’m bad with names..

In a sense - architecture isn’t really that important. It takes a backseat to all the other defining factors - some would even say that it’s about the amalgamation of all of these things into a building - in an ‘all-encompassing but not really existing’ sort of way. Something.. mystical.

God is in the details
— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, in "On restraint in Design" in The New York Herald Tribune (28 June 1959)

For every architecture job interview I think I’ve ever attended, they’re always quick to imply the importance of “something more important than architecture”, but they never go into specifics about what that is exactly. I think what they really mean by that is listening, and finding the right balance, in all things. But to tell the truth? What could be more important than architecture? What could be more important than love? Nothing. Nothing is more important than architecture. Architecture is love. Architecture is life. And life, as you know, is just a test. A test to see if we can understand the message of the universe, to discover if we can find meaning amidst mundanity and suffering, to hear the soft whispers - in the sound of rain. 

It’s easy, really. Just listen.

I’ll leave you with a small architecture joke-riddle that I thought up:

What’s the opposite of a Buddhist Monastery?

 

 

A courthouse.

Peace.