Philosophy Tuesday

There’s an oft-used phrase that I think fits very well for many of the unconscious social constructs we often (nearly always?) find ourselves trapped in:

The Circular Firing Squad

While the phrase is most accurately used to describe situations where groups are engaged in self-destructive and internal conflicts and recriminations, I’m bending it here to mean… well, actually, pretty much the same thing.  It’s may not necessarily always be as destructive as the phrase implies (sometimes it may be Nerf weapons), but it still is quite similar.

What I mean here are all those situations where we are behaving in a certain way because we know everyone else expects us to behave that way, and we can see them all behaving that way… but the only reason everyone else is behaving that way and the reason they expect you to do so is for the exact same reason:  they also think you, and everyone else, expects it, and they also are following what you, and everyone else, is doing.

Which can lead to unproductive and deleterious but also sometimes hilarious situations.  Like how we often worry that we’ll be judged by others… when everyone else is also, simultaneously, worried they’ll be judged by us.  So much so, that they, and we, are often not judging them because we’re too worried about being judged.  It’s kind of delightfully absurd, isn’t it? How fascinating!

Of course, we do indeed often judge others – it’s a human thing to do – but our little and “normal” bit of judging is further encouraged and enhanced to an unproductive level by us creating and then living inside a context (or, more often, many contexts) that fosters and even demands judgement.  “If everyone judges, then I’d better judge to! (And get them first)!“ is a first level of this, but additional contexts, such as that of vertical individuality, push it even further until we’re in a full prison where we spend 90% of our time judging others, and the other 90% of the time worried about being judged.  No wonder we’re frazzled.

There’s a social capital “game” going on here, one that is, again, something quite human to do and not necessarily an issue.  It may even be necessary for a vibrant community.  But the unhealthy levels to which we play the game are driven only because everyone else is similarly playing it.  We see people out to get us, but they’re only doing so because they think we are out to get them.  And then we do go out to get them, because we think they’re out to get us, so we’d better get them first, which causes them to react in kind, which confirms our suspicions and… boom.  We’re caught in the circular firing squad.

How easy is it to see these and free ourselves from them?  Individually, it’s not that difficult.  We can recognize and not choose to play the game, or to play the game on our own terms in ways that are productive for all.  And the best part is that when we do so, we unconsciously give others the freedom to also forego the game.*  We can engage in more authentic ways; we can be free and self-expressed and at peace.  It’s a glorious thing.

The more we practice and lay down our metaphorical arms, the larger our circles of freedom become, and we begin to create new types of circular squads, squads of joy, love, support, excitement, creativity, peace, and more.

 

* Though it may take them a little while to get over their ingrained habits and fears.

Architecture Monday

While I was in Florida to view the Inspiration4 Dragon launch, I headed away from the cape in order to go visit something rather nifty and not very well known:  a college campus designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

From the master plan to 18 buildings (of which 13 were built), this is perhaps the largest collection of FLW-designed buildings in a single place.  And it’s a fascinating collection too, incorporating a number of signature FLW elements that don’t often show up together, be it the decorative abstract motifs of the Hollyhock house and the windows of his Prairie buildings, his textile blocks (here inset with coloured glass, quite beautiful), Usonian space planning, and more.  Both the dean of the college and FLW were keen on creating something that weren’t attached to the traditions of the old but stretched out to embrace new concepts and aesthetics.

The campus is also known as the “Child of the Sun”, from FLW’s vision of buildings growing out of the ground and into the light.  While the site is currently full of big lawns, they were originally designed to remain as orange groves.  Unfortunately a recent-ish weather event wiped most of them out, but there is a plan to replant so that the long esplanades – that themselves are a representation of the orange tree – are once again nestled within the groves as intended.

Quite remarkable, and really great to tour and experience the campus, both inside and out.  FLW certainly is a whole host of contradictions, but a lot of his works really are quite dang cool.

Florida Southern College by Frank Lloyd Wright

Wonder Wednesday

Also a bit of… Washroom Wednesday?  For this is an art project that is placed at the entrance to the new gender neutral bathrooms at my alma mater, the School of Architecture at Carleton University.  I can still picture that washroom entrance, though not surprisingly a bit different in my memory as they were separated washrooms when I attended.  But even then there was a relatively prominent concrete block wall as you chose which direction to go, and with this remodel it became all that more pronounced.  What better canvas for new art?

Watching the above time lapse is neat, and I do like the resulting art!  I find it very fitting for the building and the study therein. It’s not all that unlike a quilt, with panels being personal affairs (the panels were made by different artists) and range in medium, methods, and meaning.  From architectural molding to the tools of the trade (one made of pencil points that looks kinda… dangerous?) to carved plaster plans to interpretations of the environment to a drawer pull and beyond, it’s quite a rich tapestry.  Nicely, there are also numerous filler panels so that the art can evolve and grow in the coming years.

Very neat!  Check out the story and more pictures of the work here.

Architecture Monday

What do you do when an old building in a dense urban area finds itself ready for new tenants?  Especially when that building is now surrounded by much taller and larger buildings, and there is a premium on developing new space?  As much as I love adaptive reuse, sometimes the pressure to densify argues to do something more.  An “easy” solution is to incorporate the existing building – or at least the existing façade – into the new one, often as a base for a new high-rise.

And then there’s the opportunity to do something much more radical.

The above project is, alas, only a concept piece and the land owners aren’t gong forward with it… but what a concept!  Beyond just making more commercial space, this idea was to take the over-a-century-old building and turn it into a cultural and art facility, doubling its floor area by literally mirroring it.  The result would have been this double-take inducing, water-like, reflection of the building hovering over the existing one.

What a mind trip!

Though, not a complete mind trip, as there would have been an additional new element added to the rear to house further facilities and, nicely, another stage facing an adjacent park.  So from certain angles that would have ‘broken’ the illusion.  But who cares, from so many other angles, even if you caught a glimpse of the rooftop canopy shell the illusion of the inverted building would’ve remained strong and kept all its ‘woah’ factor.

Again, alas, not to be, but one damn cool idea.

Station C Queen West Art Centre by Paul Raff Studio

Philosophy Tuesday

We have many ways of determining, and testing, “what is real.”  Or, more fully, “what is reality.”  We use these, mostly unconscious, tests to shape our world view.  Which in turn shapes who we are being and even how we experience life, leading to our behaviours and reactions.

One of these tests, and perhaps one of the most hidden of them all, is the one of agreement reality.

As social creatures, we are very much in tune with what’s being expressed around us by our current groups, and how people respond to what we profess and do.  Get acceptance and agreement, and that reinforces our reality.  Find dissonance or disagreement, and it creates impetus to review, re-evaluate, and shift.  So the more agreement we get to our reality and how we express it, the more real it becomes.

This is why the common concept of an echo chamber is such an insidious thing.  The circular yes-ing and concurring between those within creates a massive agreement reality that can become all encompassing, especially given enough time.

And then… enter the internet.  One of the wonders of the ‘net is that we can find and connect with all sorts of people of all stripes from all over, almost all to easily.  The problem and pitfall of the ‘net is that we can find and connect with all sorts of people of all stripes from all over, and in this case, it really is all to easy.  Anyone who has a particular view (and reality) can find at least a few more who share that view.  Therefore incomplete, inaccurate, harmful, malice driven, and similar views can easily gain agreement reality traction.

Worse, this is further aided by the underlying website algorithms that are designed solely to drive us towards that which it thinks we will engage with.*  It does not know, nor care, whether what it’s bringing together is bountiful or baneful.  It just sends everyone that way.**  Which means those with the thinnest of realities can be brought together to form an agreement reality.

There isn’t really a conclusion here; this is more of a jumping off point.  To becoming aware, and mindful, about this reality test both in ourselves and in others.  To exploring it as lens on our disunity and of our isolation.  And as a foundation a of how we engage, of what we press for, and of how we can break cycles.

 

* This is even to the level that a search engine will, even if you visit it in private mode so you are a blank slate, use your IP address to pre-determine what it thinks you will want to see.  It is pre-shaping the agreement reality for you….

** And, worse, in the interest of engagement (and therefore our revenue-generating attention) it increases the intensity of the content it is directing towards.

Architecture Monday

Oh this is neat!  A new trio of apartments to be added atop an existing building – but rather than just make the new units and call it a day, this project goes above (kinda literally) and beyond to create a new trio of public yards for everyone in the complex to use:  a play area, a couple of decks, and a grassy knoll.  And while that last one might seem like a joke, it is not!  Even further, it is crowned by an outlook to survey the city all around.

Very nifty, a cool addition to a dense Copenhagen neighborhood.

Hedonistic Rooftop Penthouses by… A ha!  Designed by the same firm who did the iceberg apartments I visited (and posted photos from here) while in Denmark, JDS.

Philosophy Tuesday

I heard something on the Freakonomics podcast the other week that was fascinating and added a whole new dimension to something in a way I’d never considered (or would even be likely to consider).  It had to do with the notion of individuality at the level of society, ie, whether a particular society was, as a whole, more or less individualistic.  While I’d always envisioned the gradient between (and let’s for the moment not get hung up on these specific terms) individualist and conformist, individualist has it’s own gradient: vertical and horizontal individualism.

In a horizontally individualistic society, people are encouraged to define themselves, seek independence, be expressed, value privacy, and be creative.

In a vertically individualistic society, the above is true, but (and this is the big but), they are very competitive in their individualism.

Huh!

In the vertical societies, it isn’t just seeing other people as individuals, it’s about seeing them as individuals with whom we are in competition with.  Though, it’s likely more accurate to say that it is about seeing them as individuals with whom we have to be in competition with.  It isn’t “hey, this is me”, it’s “hey, this is me, and this is what makes me superior to you.”*

Which is fascinating!  And opens up new avenues of exploration and mindfulness.  As a hidden context it would shape our experience and views and behaviour in all sorts of ways.**  Just to start, it would seem that the constant comparing and jockeying for position would create an equal and continual sense of instability and insecurity… the game is always on, and we have to be ready to play it at any time.

I always love getting a new lens and angle to see both new things and see things newly.  I’m know there’s plenty more to discover, and I’m keen on what will open up and what I’ll see out of exploring this distinction.  Even more so for the barriers I can put aside towards greater connection and peace of mind.

 

* Right down to the practice of religion, which, given the tenets of certain religions, is rather contrary…

** As this is a societal distinction, there are also some strong outcomes across the society, where the more vertical individualistic the society is, the more inequity and hardship there is, and the poorer the commons.

Architecture Monday

An old flour mill on your industrial waterfront, dormant for 25 years, catches fire and partially collapses.  You could knock that hulk down and wipe your hands of the affair.  Or… you could stabilize the ruins and do some adaptive reuse magic to turn it into the forecourt of a new museum!

As you can guess, that’s exactly what happened with the Mill City Museum.

And that forecourt is indeed some magic.  Ruins often manage to be compelling in some ways that is hard to pin down (I’d venture it’s a combination of the roughness, the randomness, and the precariousness, in conjunction with the perfection that is our imagination that completes what is missing), and here the shell acts like the outer concourse of the Coliseum.  The slick glass and steel addition contrasts beautifully with it, and all that glass lets it be a part of the museum experience within so that the history you’re learning about is ever present.

Best of all, the forecourt makes one heck of a backdrop for all sorts of events!  Beyond just being a museum, it creates a whole plethora of possibilities for a reinvented waterfront district.

Given how much I love adaptive reuse, and the rich texture of old brick and rough and tumble buildings in particular, it’s no surprise that I totally dig this.  Great work!

Mill City Museum by Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle.

Architecture Monday

Sound wave?  Tectonic shift?  Mountains?  However you read the shape it forms a strong identity for this library that edges up on one side to a wooded ravine.

While its big portico entrance welcomes you inside, only clerestory windows face the rest of town.  Along the ravine, however, the building is one continuous strip of window.  Beyond being something sculpturally nifty (which it is), the highly angular roof divides the space within into zones for reading, shelving, and enclosure (study booths, multipurpose rooms, offices) while also allowing light from above to make the building glow.

For a smallish branch library, the building is perfect, a straightforward and rectangular layout elevated to be distinct and inviting and cool.  Great stuff.

The Capilano Library, another fine work by Patkau architects!

Philosophy Tuesday

“A company’s purpose is to make money.”

We need, I strongly assert, to stop saying/repeating this.  Because it is false.

Which I think, deep down, we all know.  But it’s weird, ‘cuz it kinda feels true, doesn’t it?  It’s a classic example of both a “false opposite” and an “adjacent mistruth” operating in harmony:  A company that continually loses money isn’t going to be in business for very long* – that’s the true part.  The false opposite is that a company has to make loads of profit to remain in business.  Similarly, to avoid losing money, a company has to think about its cash flow.  Which is fair, but the adjacent mistruth that arises is that therefore the company must think about, and almost only about, maximizing its profit at every turn.  Put those two together and it has got the veneer of veracity.  One that is further burnished by repetition.  We hear this phrase over and over so often that it feels true just through recurrence and agreement.

And boom, there it is.  We get companies that do just that, and we, perhaps unwittingly, encourage it.

However, despite this truthiness it is a falsehood.

A company’s purpose is to produce a good or service that is of value to the community while earning those who provide that good or service a decent living.

That’s it.  That’s what a company ought to be aimed towards.

If a company is in business for 50 years and breaks even every single year while providing a solid living for its employees, it’s doing great.  It may not be “crushing the competition” or “growing by leaps and bounds” or “earning a 50% profit” or “making it’s owner insanely rich” or “producing amazing shareholder value.”  But it’s been around for 50 years, providing something worthwhile that has it stay around for 50 years, all the while with employees living mighty fine lives.

A company need not overcharge its customers so it can pocket the difference.  Or underpay and overwork its employees to pocket the difference.  Or offset costs into the community to pocket the difference.  Or harm the environment to pocket the difference.  Or make detrimental and injurious products to pocket the difference.  It need not impoverish us all, fleecing us to further line the pockets of a select few.

Companies are about people making vital and fun and really nifty stuff for each other so that we can all live and thrive together.

And that’s what we need to be saying.

 

* Usually – companies/rackets like Uber notwithstanding.