Philosophy Tuesday

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

Imagination, I assert, is of prime importance in the living of life.

It is from imagination that many of our joys spring forth.

More importantly, imagination is the source for empathy.

No one can ever, truly, know, what it feels like to go through what I am/you are going through.

And I/you can never, truly, know exactly what it feels like for another.

If we’re lucky, we may have experienced something similar.  We can “relate”.

But our individual experience is forever uniquely separated from anyone else’s.

Similar circumstances do not necessarily equate to the same experience.

And if we haven’t experienced something similar, then we’re starting from carte blanche.

“To have great pain is to have certainty; to hear that another person has pain is to have doubt,” wrote Elaine Scarry.

Imagination allows us to bridge that gap.

It is not a matter whether we match it unerringly.  Empathy is not about being an exact mirror.

It’s about doing our best to inhabit the other’s world.  To understand.  To get their frame of reference.

It is the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

Just like when we read a book.

When someone shares their experience, or when we witness their behaviour, we can set aside our default of comparing to our own experience by going beyond our experience.  We can set aside our judgement and our doubt for empathy.

And within that land of imagination and empathy lies a fruitful place for living, for loving, and for the human connectivity and understanding we all crave.

Architecture Monday

This is a factory.

Yes,  a factory.  Of the industrial sort.  It’s even an extension of an existing, “conventional” factory.

But it’s a factory that harnesses the power of wind, sunlight, rainwater, and vegetation to harness the power of the workers within.  It’s a factory built to honour those who work within, and show that efficiency and production doesn’t have to be isolated and insular.  Quite the opposite.

There’s so much greatness here I hardly know where to begin.  Check out that green roof, one you ascend by that bridge that hovers just inches above the rich plane of water.  The green roof that covers the whole project, protecting it from the harsh sun, creating a thermal mass, filtering rainwater, and keeping rather than eliminating at least some of the vegetation that once covered the site.

A place for the workers.

Inside, light wells bring, well, light, deep within the complex, courtyards that anchor not only break areas and exhibition rooms, but chunks of the factory floor as well.  Elsewhere on the factory, oculi (yep, that’s the plural!) pull light into production areas, diffused  by expressive metal roses.  Concrete hexagonal column caps further carry the expressiveness of the structure, lending articulation to the spaces.

The tower, shielded and surrounded by vines to control both glare and heat gain, also acts as a convection chimney for the whole complex, allowing hot air to rise out and escape while drawing in fresh air.  A passive air system that also happens to provide stunningly beautiful spaces for amenities, as well as a rooftop patio.

I’m truly excited for this building.  It’s a factory that honours its workers.  Beautiful and thrilling.  It’s an example of how good design can be, and deserves to be, everywhere.  Reminiscent of William McDonough‘s work at Herman Miller, I’ll bet retention rates and productivity here enjoys similar boosts.  Architecture is about quality of the living experience.  This is a workplace.  It’s about earning a living.  But there’s no reason it can’t also be about living period, and about being enlivened while we work.

Factory in the Earth by Ryuichi Ashizawa Architect & Associates, in Malaysia.

For Sam

sam bridge2

sam bridge1

Dedicated this week, in remembrance of Sam.  The formal naming of the bridge she used to cross over from her cat tree to her food, and to her personal perches upon high for sleeping, watching, and rapt contemplation.

Forever it will be, as she is in spirit, a part of my home.


Philosophy Tuesday

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

Our brains are pattern making machines.  Remarkable, amazing, pattern making machines.

And they are always reading between the lines.

That which we experience, that we hear of, that we notice, that we observe, that makes it through our filters, gets broken apart and flung into the vast machine to create a blueprint of reality.

Of our personal, individual, reality.

As Carl Sagan intoned in Cosmos:  “But the brain does much more than just recollect, it inter compares, it synthesizes, analyzes, it generates abstractions. … The brain has its own language for testing the structure and consistency of the world.”

If it the brain notices something occurring over and over again, boom, a pattern is created.

If the brain notices that A is usually accompanied by B, that the two are usually correlated, boom, a pattern is created.

If the brain experiences something heavy or intense – emotion wise, sensation wise, injury wise, or success wise – boom, that gets fast tracked towards patternville.

This activity is always going on, behind the scenes, automatically.

And this is much of where our views of the world come from.  From the background patterning.  From cross-linking and reading between the lines.

We don’t need to be told.  It doesn’t need to be explicit.  Our brains will pick up on it.

We inherited it.

This is why people of either side of an arbitrary country (or province, or county, or property…) border can behave so differently and can believe quite different things.  What’s right and proper and good and even possible in one place is just not the same over there.

It’s why our cultural, social, and relationship environs as children shape us so much.

It’s why our stories are so important.  What we see and what we hear and what happens in those stories becomes so much a part of our worldview.

Even in, and especially in, fiction.  Fiction lets us explore things outside of our ordinary experience.  It gives us a window beyond our immediate vicinities.  And when the fiction consistently shows something being a certain way, that quickly becomes part of our reality. *

And our reality is, well, reality.  A reality no different than our reality of gravity – gravity operates a certain way.  It doesn’t deviate.**

And for our safety, security, and success, we’ll play inside of those rules.

There’s a lot of juice available in examining these automatic realities from our pattern-making-machines.  Both for ourselves, and for society at large.

Examining these automatic realities is vital to finding the barriers that hinder our freedom.   Again, both for ourselves***, and for all the members of society at large.

The way to shift realities is to prime the automatic-pattern-making-machine with the kinds of patterns we want it to pick up on.

This includes our actions.

This includes the conditions that surround.

And, especially, this includes the stories we tell.


* Yes, even when we ‘know’ it’s fiction.  The background processes of our brains still is operating and isn’t turned off by the ‘knowledge’ that it’s fiction.  We may not think we can fly like the hero, but there’s a lot more patterns that can and are pulled out and used to create our model of the world.

** Except when watching a Cirque Du Soleil show.  They seem to have a special deal with physics…

***  Individually, mindfulness and transformation can let us wipe a pattern clean.  Get it ready to be written anew.

Architecture Monday

This is not your ordinary multi-use cultural centre.  Part of it is.  Part of it moves.

And that moving portion is intriguing.

The video shows it all.  Intended to be a flexible exhbition/gallery/show/theatre space, with no permanent exhibits, the way the various levels can be opened, or closed, to the retractable canopy opens up a lot of options and potential.  That the canopy itself, when extended, can be opened or closed to the plaza next to it increases that flexibility even more.  There’s something fun to think about how, every time you visit the building, it could look different, you could move through the space differently, and there could be totally different things going on.

It is a bit gimmicky, which can be tricky to pull off.  It’s not the first highly reconfigurable space I’ve been intrigued with.  Unlike the Wyly Theatre in Dallas, however, I’m less certain about how well the SHED will perform.  Being at the end of the High Line is a great spot, and being smack in the middle of the largest redevelopment in North America  will help it not be isolated and empty.  I’m wondering how well and how often that movable shed will function, and what it will be like inside, not only in terms of the quality of space, but also that the floor spends some of its time outside, and all the grime and wear and tear that can entail.

But it will be used for something I’m sure.  Whether it’s as grand a vision as that video purports, with lectures or theatre plays, is to be seen.  Even as, say, a concert venue, or an indoor/outdoor reception area for a gallery opening, or trade fairs, or fundraising events, the extended shed ought to work out well enough, with enough events and content to keep it from falling into pure gimmick territory.

It’s due to open in 2019, so, my intrigue will have to remain intrigued for a few more years before I can see it in action.

Architecture Monday

Narrow site, in Manhattan, destined for residential work.  Waterfront property.  Surrounded on three sides by dense urbanity.

Solution?  BIG (as in BIG Architects…) magic.

Inspired by courtyard block typology, W57 marries old-world urban fabric with NYC-style high-rise residential living to create what the firm calls a “courtscraper” – a marvelous pyramid that spins the typical apartment tower to create so much more.

For starters, there’s the courtyard itself, a space that inverts the traditional outward gaze of an apartment block and give the residents a commons to be a part of and play in.  The dramatic shape also allows for sun to penetrate deeply into more of units and to the waterfront itself, while doing the amazing double task of giving both more units in the building views of the river while also protecting the views of the surrounding buildings.  A saw-tooth pattern of balconies and glazing lets even the units on the straight, north side of the building maintain views towards the water, while letting in light.  With its sweeping form, the building also elegantly handles the transition in scale from the open waterfront to its existing neighbours.

All from a simple and ingenious twisting of the building’s shape.

BIG continues to impress me with their projects, really digging deep into the underlying intentions of a building and playing with them until something extraordinary comes out, both in form but also, especially, in function.  There’s much to love here not only because of its uniqueness and boldness, but because it makes for a better living.  These units get views and access and light and great spaces atypical of Manhattan high-rise living.  Wicked stuff.

And check out this wonderful view from the new into the old…

I’d love to have that unit.  Sold!

(Images from fieldcondition)



Sam entered my life about five years ago, through Fiona, who was a housemate at the time.  I didn’t see Sam for much of the first month or two, for she hid under the couch nearly nonstop, and would certainly hide if I came into the room.  Sam had not had an easy time at her former place of residence and she would only come out, tentatively, when the familiar face of Fiona was the only one in the room.

Over time, that changed.  The short way of saying it is I won her over.  With patience, openness, and love, along with some nice words in the secret cat language (which is French), she warmed up to me and to the world at large.  When Fiona moved out, she asked if I would like to keep Sam, and I wholeheartedly said yes.

Sam would run to greet me at the door when I came home.  She was a total winter lap and cuddle with you while you sleep cat (in the summer, too hot!).  She would hunt her toys at night, and bring them to me with a meow at 2am.  She enjoyed rolling around on the front stoop, and she loved romping around the backyard.  She stared through the window at the possum sitting rock still on the nearby fence.  She would hop upon my lap as I worked, and then would lie on the desk near me.  She loved rubbing her head all over shoes, and when I would get home from kung fu practice, I’d lay on the floor and she would come and nestle in the crook of my arm, head happily buried into my armpit.

Whenever I would pet her, she would meow, quite a bit.  At first, her meows sounded plaintiff.  I surmised it was a strategy from her previous household, where another cat would terrorize her.  With a plaintiff meow, the other cat wouldn’t come to investigate.  That too transformed.  She would meow much more playfully, joyously, as I pet her, motor running with intensity.

She was a wonderful cat.  She filled my life with feline grace and affection and delight and love.

Today, August the 10th, 2016, Sam crossed over the rainbow bridge.  I held her as she passed.  We had shared a glorious set of years together.

Goodbye my dear Sam.  You will be missed.

I can complete the poem I began yesterday:


and maybe,

just maybe

I can smile

as I imagine my cat

chasing that die

as it rolls across the sky