Philosophy Tuesday

We humans get good at stuff.

The problem is that we get really good at it.

 

Sometimes too good.

 

Which then often ends up causing imbalances and more.

 

Our greatness/efficiency becomes unproductive,

Leading us away from creating what we want,

And even causing harm.

 

It’s up to us to get real good at knowing when we’ve gotten too good,

And recognize when we’ve gotten such strong tunnel vision

That our abilities have led us astray.

 

Dial it back a notch,

And watch everything blossom from there.

Architecture Monday

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with masonry and brick.  The banal, everywhere, front-façade-only, use of brick veneer on a generic house, well… that can go jump in a lake.  But highly expressive, truthfully used, rich textured brick, made even better when it’s got history and patina?  From what I’ve posted before on this blog, I think it’s quite clear that I’m totally into that.

This one can’t fulfill the history and patina part, but no matter; feast your eyes on this beauty!

If there was a picture needed for “expressive brick”, this, without a doubt, would fit the bill perfectly.  There’s so much going on, it’s hard to know where to begin.  A reinterpretation of a traditional fortress, it’s got inward-canted walls, rounded (or not!) corners, a dark stone base that rises into a vibrant brick top, bits of stone or brick that jut out or are recessed inward, and it culminates with arching brick latticeworks that top it off like a crown.  All this then further punctuated by patterned concrete boxes that poke out to form rooms or balconies.  It’s exquisite.

And it gets even better within.  Formed around a central shaft and stair, the different levels spiral upwards, creating numerous courtyards and porches and allowing nearly all parts of the house to be visually connected to each other.  The latticed stone and brick are left exposed inside, often further articulated and accentuated to provide a rich backdrop and a sense of solidity.  Best of all is the quality of light, sifting through the openings and lattices in ways both dramatic and serene.

Can this get much better?  How about yes;  the openings were not arbitrary and were instead designed with the venturi effect in mind to naturally cool and ventilate the house, and the roof collects water in a traditional kund and stores the excess in a cistern.  It’s designed to be a part of the world, not apart from it.

Needless to say, great stuff.  A wonderful piece of work.

The Gadi House by  PMA madhushala

Philosophy Tuesday

“The Art of Communication.”  Though it’s a common enough phrase, I don’t think we often give it its due.  We don’t value it for what it’s really saying.

And the reason we often ignore it is simple:  because we’re always communicating.  We communicate hundreds of times every day.  And because we’re doing it all the time, we settle into the view that it’s just a thing that we do.  A thing that we can do.  A thing that’s natural.  Ultimately, a thing we even think we’re GOOD at.  And if there is any problem, it’s gotta be their fault.  *

Ah, hubris.

What that familiarity hides is that communication is hard.  That it is, very much, an art.  And as such it is a skill at which we can work on and develop and can always do better at.

Further, that it’s an art also points to the fact that there’s no one way to do it – quite the contrary, there are not only many ways to do it, but many ways we need to do it, for every situation, and every person we’re communicating with, is a different canvas.  Just because we may have it down with one person or group, doesn’t mean we’ve figured it out.

Heck, even within that group things can shift and before we know it we’re back to misunderstandingville.

It’s all an art, something we can practice and develop and forever grow.  And when we’re engaged with it we can bring our listening and mindfulness to it so that we can dance in the moment to create and communicate.

Because, at the end of it all, we want to share, we want to be heard, we want to be understood, and we want to connect.

 

* One of my favourite expressions/examples of all times regarding this is this XKCD comic I spoke about here, for which the caption says “Anyone who says they are great at communicating but “people are bad at listening” is confused at how communication works.”

Architecture Monday

The Olympics will get underway this coming Friday, and the new stadium is more than ready… to be mostly empty, devoid of just about all visitors.  It’ll be a surreal thing to watch, for sure. But let’s take a moment to check out the stadium itself, and it’s kinda nice, using lots of wood and taking inspiration from the vernacular overhangs to create a series of verandas that also boast edge gardens.  It seems inviting enough.

Doubly nicely, these verandahs and the roof (whose opening is deliberately asymmetrical to enhance this effect) have been designed to funnel natural ventilation through the structure and reduce the AC loads.  So that’s cool too (pun semi-intended).

Stadiums tend to be stadiums, but this one does some work to help keep it from being nothing but an imposing oval.  Time will tell if this one will find enough life post-olympics to become part of the city’s fabric.

The Japan National Stadium by Taisei Corporation + AZUSA SEKKEI + Kengo Kuma & Associates

Architecture Monday

When I visited the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo a few years ago, it was in pretty bad shape, bad enough that netting was arrayed over the whole thing to catch any parts that might fall off.  A somewhat undignified ‘end’ for an interesting experiment: to create a type of building with “capsules” that could be attached to a central core, with the intent that each could be replaced or exchanged when necessary.  Part of a movement called “Metabolism”, named after the biological idea, it aimed to allow buildings to grow, mutate, evolve, and return to components to begin the cycle anew.

For Nakagin, the units were intended as apartments for businessmen, and as such each came complete as an entirely self-contained room, with cabinets and more along one side (including hyper-modern amenities like a reel-to-reel tape deck!), a bed below the bed, and a lavatory along the other side.  It was a nifty concept, but one that clearly didn’t take off (likely, in part, due to the difficulty of replacing a unit in the middle of a stack without somehow removing the others), and with time, unfortunately, it deteriorated enough that it became a structural hazard to occupy, leaving much of it vacant.  Demolition was a threat, despite its nifty looking nature and architectural significance.

BUT!  In a most delicious ‘third’ option, the tower will come down, but in a way that honours its initial intent: the modules will be detached and be regenerated to live on as independent accommodation (with some to become museum exhibits).  It’s metabolism in action, with the units not turned into trash and instead able to be renovated and find new life elsewhere.

It’s still a bit of a loss, losing the beauty of the sculptural assemblage (and no word I’ve found on what’ll happen to the central spikes, though I imagine those will be torn down), but compared to the complete wrecking ball it’s a much cooler (and sustainable + possibility laden) alternative.

Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa.

Philosophy Tuesday

“I don’t have to run faster than the bear…

I just have to run faster than you.

While the above is not the actual quote,* it is how I first heard it.  You’ve might have heard some version of it as well.  And through its dark humour it speaks with a kind of seemingly unexplainable profoundness.

Whether there’s any truth to it in the physical realm (whether you live someplace where there are bears or not), the thing is that is does point to how we often relate to certain aspects of our life or of our behaviour.  Especially when it comes to the realms of morality or ethics.  It is quite easy to stop examining ourselves about whether we are living up to our ideals who we profess ourselves to be – including whether we’re being productive or unproductive, whether we are creating possibility or causing harm and hurt, whether we are working towards our common desires or running roughshod over others – and instead begin comparing ourselves to others, with one single metric.  To put in the same context as the above:

“… I just have to be better than you.

The game is no longer mindfulness, or self examination, or creation, or self-actualization.  That all gets short-circuited by the easy way out of comparison.  It’s a way to assuage our guilt.  Comparison smooths over the dissonance and discomfort that comes from stepping over our authentic self and its morals, ethics, ideals, values, and any of the bits that run counter to who we say we are.**

And it does a great job of it!  Inside the Bear game (aka “not as bad as…” game) we don’t gain peace, but it does move aside the confusion and unease and ache, at least temporarily.

But it will only ever be temporary.  Because we’ve got a break in our word, and a break in our world between our authentic self and how we’re being and behaving.

When we recognize the Bear game, we can put it aside.  We can let ourselves see those disconnects so that we can do something about them.  We can take action, do the work, create new clearings to step in to, and align ourselves with who we truly want to be.  We gain access to peace of mind, wonder, connection, and fulfillment, while also creating spaces where we can all flourish.

 

* The original, by Jim Butcher, is not presented as a punchline to a joke, being much more straightforward:  “You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.”  It was meant as encouragement towards perseverance (specifically in becoming a writer) as well as a good reminder to stop focusing on our imperfections and that we don’t need to be perfect or the ultimate best in the world at something to enjoy fulfillment and success.  However, the version I’ve got stuck in my head, with its more pointed nature, is more perfect for delving into the inquiry at hand…

** Unless, of course, who you say you are is a jerk or tyrant or conniver or schemer or the like… in which case, there’s a different conversation that needs to be had to transform that!