Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A long way from Home

Two planes, one layover, and 24 hours – that was my journey back home. Back to the States, if only for a week. A week for family celebrations, time with old friends, overwhelming nostalgia. After all, this was the place of my birth, the place of my youth, the place to come back to. Everything else has been temporary.

For me, Architecture has always been about home. The house, the home to me and my family for the past twenty-years, was designed by a family friend, an architect whose ideas, inspirations, shaped the way I grew up. His design, and its ultimate execution, became the physical container of my youth, an icon for remembering my past.

I always wondered at the lack of architect-designed homes. Perhaps it was just the lack of acknowledging an architect’s involvement, I don’t quite know. Either way, as I grew up, living in an architect-designed home was an anomaly. It wasn’t common, something people knew about. And I think that’s a real shame.

It sometimes seems that Architecture, as a profession, is more concerned with high-profile projects, large-scale commissions, or luxury residential living. In doing so, Architecture has taken on a sheen of inaccessiblity, an elitism that marginalizes the profession. What we do benefits those with the money to pay for it.

If you’ve been in school for architecture, you’ve probably been told about the ridiculously low percentage of involvement by architects in our built environment. It’s our urban legend, based upon a truth, but probably distorted, and repeated enough times to feel true. Architects do a lot of work, though they probably only wish to acknowledge a small percentage of it. Those “bread and butter” projects, the ones to keep the office in the black, they are rarely the ones considered news-worthy, and probably not considered part of the office portfolio.

Still, architects aren’t involved enough in what gets built, I believe that. I think this is particularly true for the types of places where we might have the most impact, where people have the greatest attachment.

Beyond anything else, my home inspired my interest in architecture. I still find myself pausing at times, noticing the details. The way your eye is drawn to the views of the Salt Lake Valley, framed through the West-facing windows, the way light streams down the stairs at high noon, reminding you of how bright and sunny spring days come to the Wasatch Front, the way our kitchen allows for family congregation, making it the heart of any gathering. Those were conscious decisions, made by someone in tune with the place, in tune with our family’s needs. And, in its execution, he gave my family a place like no other.

The idea of home is different for everyone, but it always involves a place. It involves an attachment to something constructed, something built. It’s a relationship, it’s emotional. A home has significance.

So, I like to imagine what would happen if more and more architects were a part of the homes being built around the country, around the world? How we might improve the stature of our profession, the significance of what we do? Maybe it’s not the most exciting work in the world, the most notable, the most likely to get published. But it certainly might be the most influential. Sure, it’s idealistic. But, at the same time, it probably should be. After all, in making a home, it should be as close to an ideal as possible; that’s what makes it so special, what makes you always want to go back. Even if it isn’t home anymore.


Blogger MissThing said...

A childhood friend just finished building one wing of his house. It took him almost six months, amidst a seemingly inordinate amount of let's-redo-this-or-that-it-doesn't-feel-right, and much to the vexation of his peers who had almost given up on ever seeing THE dream house.

It would really have just been easier to go along with a simple plan, 3 months and he'da been good to go, right? Then I sit on his porch on a Sunday afternoon, watch how the sun bounces off the stained glass, how the impressed roses beckon to be picked, how with every different angle the house seems to take on a diverse dimension, transfixing, mesmerising me.

I'm not an architect (thank my lucky stars, I'm already cynical enough without having my profession add to the list) but am almost sure I want one to be VERY involved when I decide to venture the 'my-house-of-dreams' way...

11:30 AM  
Blogger the silent observer said...

Hello missthing...I have to say, I am relieved to hear you say that...architecture-designed homes sometimes get the label of being "difficult" to complete, scaring people away from the possibilities. I hope that, when you do build your dream house, you not only find a great architect, but you have the same final experience you had at your friends house.

1:13 PM  
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11:03 PM  
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9:30 PM  

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