Sunday, December 04, 2005

Closing in on Empty

I am in search of inspiration…a muse of some kind to ignite my creative passions and help me past my current rut. Nothing has come, despite the abundance of source material. So, despite my recent tours through some of the greatest architectural marvels in existence, I find myself at a loss. And that worries me.

Creativity. It is our source material, as it were. And while some imagine it as an endless reservoir, I find myself feeling tapped out. After years of school, I feel like I’ve drained most of my tank and there isn’t much fuel left to keep me going. It begs me to question 1) is it possible to re-fuel and 2) if it isn’t, what do I do when I hit empty?

As an undergraduate, creativity seemed less about the actually birth of a new idea; rather, it was a new attitude towards the status quo. Precedent studies were clues into our own solutions. As examples of what people had done in the past, we looked to them for a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities. And then, after extensive analysis and deconstruction, we began to cull together our own projects, built upon the lessons of others. Though we were trying to “break out of the box”, we were, at least then, given a box to start with.

Scour the studios of undergraduates, and you will see a collage of styles – experiments using the formal languages of practicing architects those students either consciously or subconsciously admire. Regardless, explorations using the design styles and practices of others become springboards – catalysts to begin your own work. And, with time, you find yourself becoming more and more confident of how to differentiate yourself from those who inspired you. Imitation is flattery, as some say; in an architecture studio, imitation extends beyond flattery. It is the acknowledgement of admiration and a challenge to the original creator. It is saying “hey, you're amazing” while simultaneously thinking “I can do better”.

Those truly adept at design, with the “creative genius” to transcend precedents, are rare. They become the names for history books, the works which future generations study and challenge. And while it may seem shallow to say it, I often dreamed, while working away in my studios, of being identified as one of them; one of the great designers whose projects attracted the attention of professors, critics and my fellow classmates. I wanted to be the student whose ideas and designs would divorce themselves from their precedents and be read as entire new, entirely of me. I never got there.

I knew, early on, that my work was, in its highest evaluation, well-executed if rather derivative. It was not revolutionary and I knew it, even then. For the work I aspired to produce, you had your pick among my classmates, whose designs had the wow factor that drew you in with their seductive imagery. It was an unusual confluence of talent, which our professors even acknowledged. This made for some clear-cut ideas of what truly great designers should be.

During a second year critique, a fellow classmate presented his project of a mausoleum/cemetery. Composed as a long, horizontal platform rising from a receding ground plane, it had a solidity and presence that reflected the nature of the building type, and was more elegantly composed than anything I had previously seen. Following the platform to its edge, a viewer found themselves elevated from the world around them, left to stare towards the horizon and the landscape beyond – an ideal place for solace, reflection and hope.

The project struck me by its poetics – I was, in an instant, transported within the space my classmate had envisioned. And so were the critics – a combination of current professors and outside practitioners. There was a quiet hush once his presentation was completed. Stunned silence - reverence for a student whose ideas transcended those of seasoned veterans. It was the sudden realization that, for as much practice, as much experience these architects had, there stood before them a student whose creative talents could overshadow their own work.

A reversal of roles, it was a moment of insight into the world of architecture I was just beginning to explore. Experience gave you credibility and expertise – the ability to work out solutions with greater ease or uncover insights more quickly. Experience helped you maintain your creative reserves, use them more efficiently. But it didn’t necessarily deepen your creative reservoir, broaden it, expand it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say there is a natural limit to our individual creative pools. But, as I saw it, there were those whose reservoirs were deeper, wider; those whose casual dip into their creativity yielded ideas with greater impact than I might ever achieve, even after extensive dives.

It may seem disheartening, but I don’t wish it to be. Then, I saw it as a challenge; I just had to work harder, explore more extensively. And, as an undergraduate, that’s what I did. I spent more hours in studio, made more study models, read more books. It seemed to work then; I generally felt confident about my final products, and for the most part, found positive receptions among my professors and critics. But, even then, I never achieved what I had hoped for.

For the most part, I still believe that I can supplement my deficits through such an approach. But now, as I spent week after week still unconvinced of my work and its potential, I do reflect upon this possible limitation. I think that, perhaps, in tying so hard to match the creativity of those I myself admired, I was burning through my own limited supply at a faster and faster rate. As for re-filling, I haven’t found an answer yet. I hope I can, and if I can, then I will scour the earth for fuel. I had hoped for that from my trip. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have done the trick. So that leaves me as I am right now, wondering if I need to switch over to economy mode, and save whatever I have left.


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