Philosphy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.


You are whole and complete


You always have been


And you always will be


You may not experience it


And you may sometimes take actions that don’t reflect it


But it doesn’t change the fact


There are just barriers to your experiencing it


Welcome to the New Year


Whole and Complete


Architecture Monday

What’s 2.33km long, elevated, green, and full of people and life?

Much has already been written on the High Line (and its inspiration, the Promenade plantée in Paris, which, somehow, I have not yet walked. I MUST RECTIFY THIS). For me, I love the high line and the idea of the high line as it marries my love of trains with my love of adaptive reuse (!) and the power of good design: taking something in place, that had served a function with aplomb, and repurposing it into something again beautiful, impressive, and delightful.

The High Line also created a wonderful urban park, the kind of space so vital and exciting in a city (one lacking, unfortunately, in many North American city designs). That some complain that the High Line has become touristy is a demonstration of how much the locals themselves enjoy it and have, so quickly, taken ownership of the space. With good design has come good development, regrowing the area and pulling people into it.

My last visit to NYC was back in 1995. I had the fun of walking with a gaggle of classmates from 66th street all the way down to Canal street at night, visiting sites and restaurants along the way. Next visit, I’m getting my butt onto the High Line and walking its entire length, soaking it all in.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards, they try to have more things or more money in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do in order to have what you want. ”

— Margaret Young

It is a curiosity that we do often tend to live our lives from the perspective of a have -> do -> be, or a do -> have -> be. As in, if I do hard work, I can buy a big house, then I will be satisfied (or feel safe, or be admired…), or, if I have a lot of money, then I can do many fun things, and I will be happy. The funny thing is, it doesn’t always seem to work out that way, does it? I’d even go so far as to say it rarely works out in that way. Having things, and doing things, can lead to amusement, distraction, and fun, but those deep seated beings we want – fulfilled, satisfied, loved, connected, content, enlivened – they seem to escape our grasp. The unfortunate thing is I think we get confused. We do something fun, and we feel amused for a bit, and we confound that with being happy or fulfilled; when the fun stops the feeling disappears soon thereafter, and we get trapped into thinking we need to go do something fun again, or that all we can get in life is to continually go out and buy more, do more, and hopefully someday when we have allll the stuff we covet we will be fully satisfied and fulfilled and blissful.

And yet that someday never really comes; the yardstick keeps moving and our desires grow insatiably towards more and more. (And this is not to say that we shouldn’t do fun things!)

What Margaret Young suggests, and what I’ve found to be the counterintuitive yet surprisingly effective way, is to live in the other direction: be -> do -> have. And maybe it isn’t so counterintuitive … if we are being a certain way (say angry as an easy example), we automatically act certain ways (we raise our voice, bang on the table), and we get certain results and have certain things in our life. Our being automatically gives us certain actions, certain doings, that produce results. If we can tap into that being to begin with, in all those areas of life that are dear to us, then that gives us a double bonus: for one, we take more effective actions to realizing that which we want to have, and two, we already have the grand prize: the being and the experience of life that comes from that being, which is, ultimately, what we really want.

It can take some work to tap into that world of generating the being. We’re learning something new. What’s heartening is that there are areas where we already have those ways of being: we call that our personality. We can see right there, if we let ourselves be present to it, the effect of how those fixed ways of being play out in our lives, where it works for us, and where it doesn’t work for us; where it produces the results we want, and where it doesn’t. When we see that, we can start to work on training ourselves to generate those ways of being we do want, we can become flexible in generating ways of being that are appropriate for a certain situation and not be stuck with what we, or others, think is our personality (and we can, of course, keep our personality and ways of being where they do work for us). The best way to get at it, I’ve found, is to delve into the barriers or ruts that restrict our freedom to choosing ways of being. Then it is a matter of training ourselves to be present (as always, the first step in all self cultivation and spiritual awakenings is to train our ability to be present) and to choose our way of being moment by moment by moment.

Like most things worthwhile it is a lifelong practice – a practice that holds the promise of a greater experience and quality of life and the peacefulness that comes with it.

Architecture Monday

2226 by be baumschlager eberle – click for more

The purity of a rigorous form can be enticing. And when you tweak it just so, something delightfully unexpected, it comes even more alive. That simple yet expertly constructed form, the smooth white face with the coloured bands from the deep set windows, the reflecting pool that frames the entry path, there’s much here that I like. And this strong formal language continues within, from the tall ceiling spaces to the strongly defined stair.

What I like as a big bonus is that it is an entirely naturally ventilated, heated, and cooled building. Using a double-wall of two types of masonry, the thermal mass of the building, along with the operable windows, are harnessed to provide the building’s climactic control. The intent is to bring the natural back to the operation of a building, and provide human comfort with a connection to the natural.

This is a building that plays with its site, in how the colours of the sky play with the contrast of the building’s skin, how the windows provide connection in and out, both visually and thermally, and how people within provide animation on the silken backdrop.

Wonder Wednesday

As we came in to land tonight in Toronto, a young woman behind me, maybe in her twenties, was seeing snow for the first time.  She was completely enthralled and amazed.  “Wow!”  “Oh look at the park, so beautiful!”  “Ohh, I love how it just lazily floats down!”  I couldn’t help it but smile, hearing the wonder in her voice and the joy that came with it.  To be present to the beauty in the world and to the new experiences waiting for us every day.  It was a one in ten thousand day (to quote xkcd), and I was lucky enough to be nearby.

Architecture Monday

click to visit architecture for humanity

It’s only fitting that I display some of Architecture for Humanity’s work, given my video supporting them in this year’s #P4A. Their slogan (and book) is “Design Like You Give A Damn”, and it is a testament to how powerful, good design can be achieved on small budgets and using local materials and labour.

Architecture has an impact on the people who interact with it, beyond the simple impact that shelter provides as protection from the elements. Being in a space has an immediate effect on one’s experience. As a focal point and locus, architecture creates a sense of place and a foundation for people and their tribe to know themselves. It is a force multiplier. Architecture provides a greater sense of being for everyone in the community, and that allows for greater healing, bolder action, confidence, and pride.

P4A – Architecture for Humanity

Here’s my video for this year’s Project for Awesome, asking for votes for Architecture for Humanity.  P4A is a completely community-run 2-day event, where you can vote for various non-profit organizations and donate to the P4A fund.  At the end, the non-profits with the highest votes get a split of all the money donated from noon Dec 13th to end of Dec 16th.  Please check out my vid below, and please vote for Architecture for Humanity (and consider donating to P4A as well)!

Please share this far and wide…  Architecture has the capacity to greatly decrease worldsuck, and it’s an amazing force multiplier for other non-profit and charity activities.  When a community has great architecture, something new gets created.

To vote, go to—architecture-for-humani    (Voting ends on Dec 16th)

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

When I get deep down into it, beyond the usual tempest, I’m not actually interested in who is good, or bad, or right, or wrong. I’m interested in what works.

I know, very well, the initial “eep!” feeling when we learn that something we’ve been doing, something we’ve been doing for a long time, and thought was the bomb, turns out to actually have deleterious side effects on our world, ourselves, and on others. It invokes strong cognitive dissonance: I am a good person, therefore how can it be that this thing I’ve been participating in and doing is not as rosy as I thought?

No one wants to be caught out in the middle of the rain like this.

But after that moment of egads, that rush of defensiveness – I didn’t know! It’s fine! You must be mistaken! – it’s time to get down to business and shift. We’re human, we’re adaptable. We can shift.

We can stop doing that which doesn’t work, and find out and then start doing that which does work.

We can stop vilifying and punishing ourselves, and stop vilifying and punishing others.

Let’s take on putting blame and shame to the side, and instead create what works and what we really want for our world.

And, as a bonus, we will no longer need to feel like we got caught in the rain.

Architecture Monday

click for project website

I first heard of Snøhetta from the firm’s founder, at a lecture in SF. It was an amazing talk, not only for the work they produced, starting by winning as a brand new firm the competition for the new global library in Alexandria, but for his words of wisdom on process and on collaboration. It’s a big buzz word now, of course, but he spoke about it with such authenticity and commitment to it in ways that even today I not often hear.

The project above, the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin, is a full illustration of this. Take a close look at the front of the building – that is a single 14m by 5m (46′ x 16.5′) slab of granite, cut, transported from Norway and erected as a single slab. Many people said it was impossible, or would cost too much. They spoke to the people at the quarry. They now have a very solid front to a wedge shaped building on a narrow site that announces itself without fanfare and is a great tie and allegory to the people of Norway.

A simple project on a constrained site, elevated by good design.