Architecture Monday

A window can be more than just a portal for light or ventilation.

It can frame views.

It can bring the outside in.

It can extend the room outward towards the horizon and beyond.

Tadao Ando’s Church of the Water is, in many ways, the antithesis of his Church of the Light.  Here, the celebration is not of the ephemeral, but of nature.

As with the Church of the Light, the Church of the Water also dispenses with much of the traditional visual language of churches, with a form reduced to several intersecting boxes made of his trademark silky smooth concrete.  Inside the simple nave, attention is immediately drawn towards the giant window that forms the back wall – or, more often than, not the large opening where there would be a back wall.  The  entire window can be rolled off to the side, opening the church to the stepped reflecting pond that leads the eye towards the tree line.  Light, water, air, sound, and nature all become part of the room.  As the seasons change so too does the experience of the chapel.  The green of summer, the colours of fall, the white purity of winter, the blooming spring.

Entering the building is an experience of itself, designed to be a procession that leads up to a glass and steel cube perched atop the structure before down a dark spiral stairway into the larger cube of the chapel.

As with many of Ando’s works, the Church on the water starts with a simple concept, rigorously developed into form of careful proportions and details.  It takes the essence of a church and creates something familiar yet strikingly different, even playful.  It’s sensual architecture.

When I’m able to visit Japan, it’s on my list of places to experience.

Philosophy Tuesday

Pop quiz:  What’s more important?  Believing in yourself?  Or hard work, practice, and perseverance?

Correct!  That was a trick question.  The answer delightfully lies along the Buddhist middle path.

It is not uncommon to see one or the other of these ‘mantras’ held up as the ultimate key to our performance in success.  Movies, books, motivational speeches, they all strut their view:  “You just got to believe…”  “Be yourself…”  “If at first you don’t succeed, try again…”  The all important (and rousing) training montage…

And these are not wrong per se, just reductive.  They make for a great story, or they’re intended as a specific kind of boost or guidance.

However, neither aspect on its own is the magic elixir.  The two are quite inexorably linked, playing off each other to produce the whole picture.

In a true Niels Bohr way, they are both 100% important.

For the realm of belief…

If we’re weighed down by something in our mental space – doubt, concern, trying to look good, shame – that nagging little voice in our head can totally interrupt our highest levels of performance.  We hesitate, second guess ourselves, pull back, stumble, fumble, and in the end, we make a right muddle of it.

When it’s a sports team is flaming out in the playoffs, we call that “choking.”   Something has kaiboshed their mental game, and it completely disrupts their actual game.  They don’t play their best.  Down they go.

If, on the other hand, we’re acting from a place of clarity and in total unity with the activity, we call that being “in the zone.”  Ease and grace is ours.  Exceptional performances erupt.  Legends get born.

Our state of mind and our state of being is vital to our achieving maximum performance.

When we are clear, there is nothing hindering our thoughts and actions.

But…

To perform those actions, we need to know how.   We need the skill.  And just wanting something doesn’t mean we’re capable of it.

My desire to sing a song like a rock star isn’t going to give me the pitch, or the words, or the rhythm, or the melody.  It may get me up on stage, but there’s going to be a gap.

We need kung fu.  The actual translation of the term kung fu, that is:  “skill acquired through hard work and time.”

That’s what this is.  We need to put our time in.  Develop our skill.  We’re never going to be perfect that first day in.  We’re never going to start at the top.  We need to learn, and we need to practice.  Do the hard work.  Try.  Fail.  Learn.  Suck.  Suck a lot.  Things are messy.  We will fall down.  That’s ok. That’s what this is all about.  Get better.  Over time.

It’s a journey that never ceases.

But…

If we doubt yourself, or don’t believe it’s possible, then it’s not even in our wildest imaginations to even try to learn, or to try and do it.  Or, our progress is slow, hampered by our own uncertainty.  We’re just not all there.

But…

The funny thing about skill is that even if we don’t care about it, and even if we don’t really feel like it, we can still learn a skill.  We can still skill to perform our tasks.  Skill, in this way, can be quite independent of our desire.

And… so round and around it goes.

They are both profound truths.  They are two sides of the same coin.*  United, they bring forth mastery.

Our best performance** comes when we’re passionate about the task and excited about ourselves, when we’re clear of unproductive mental chatter, feelings, and concerns, and when we’ve got the skills, developed through lots of hard work and grit, to back it up.

We step up.  We get ready.  And then, we shine.

 

* – It should not be overlooked that “believing in ourselves” and reducing the unproductive mental chatter, worry, and etc is also a skill.  There’s kung fu available here too.  Mindfulness, transformation, possibility, is all something that can be grown.  It can also be very hard work, and it may lead through much levels of suckitude and messiness.  It’s not something that should be glossed over.

** – It should also not be overlooked, in a triple Buddhist middle path, that the randomness of life and life’s events also plays a role in our results (and we shouldn’t create a disempowering and shameful context around our ‘position’ in life).  This is about honing ourselves and our performance, which will allow us to respond in the best manner no matter how life shows up.

Architecture Monday

A video to share tonight!

Shigeru Ban is best known for his works making emergency shelters out of cardboard tubes.   But it isn’t the material, or the ingenious responses to the emergency conditions that makes his work noteworthy, it is his ability to craft wonderful spaces.   These are buildings people want to be in.  Many of them remain in use, even long after the “emergency” or “temporary” conditions that spawned them have passed.

Design isn’t for special cases only.  These works help demonstrate that design is for everywhere, and that good design is vital for our wellbeing, and, by extension, the wellbeing of our communities.  When we take care of ourselves through design, we are taken care of.

Little could seem “humbler” than a cardboard tube.  And perhaps his buildings are often, in some way,  humble.  Yet they are wondrous spaces to be in.  In both his more planned and permanent buildings as well as the temporary ones, he exposes and weaves and celebrates the tube as an expressive form that creates light and luminous spaces to inhabit.

Which is, in many ways, what architecture is all about.  Inhabitation and inspiration that facilitates, nurtures, and touches our spirit.