no time to wonder 

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During an interview for a new project, I met with a person who shared profound thoughts with me about whether we take time to wonder or reflect anymore.

Through this engaging conversation, this person shared thoughts from an article he read reflecting on our culture of instant knowledge desiring no time for reflection. I never got the name of the article because I was so intent on listening that I forgot to ask. In an expected manner, I began to think about this with respect to the practice of architecture.

The ability or opportunity to ponder something and wrestle with an answer has become rare, I believe largely as a byproduct of technology.  I am guilty as most of you are in turning to some computer device and searching the Internet for answers to most of life’s trivial questions or searching how to do something on YouTube. Most of the time we simply want to know – right now. It’s inveterate to this generation and infecting mine. This is fine when one is in an unfamiliar area looking for a restaurant or needing to find the correct road when lost. A GPS or a smart phone can really be great thing. The social ramifications of social media are outside of my interest here, but there are overlapping consequences. Oddly enough I’m sharing these thoughts through a blog no less.

As an architect I am enthralled with the notion of pondering, contemplation and consideration of the unknown. Slowing down at times is necessary to produce inspirational work I believe. Yet the impact of time and money on architecture constantly cheats this process. This is what most architects have to deal with – our clients hire us for more than a signature building. They have to open on time; we can’t turn down the noise in our minds.

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I get concerned that the shift in paradigm our culture has demanded with instant knowledge and information has weakened our ability to think critically. As architects, we utilize technology for objectivity in design because the demands for performance has skyrocketed. I don’t wish to go back. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be nice if we could slow down long enough to contemplate an idea, contemplate the effort taken to move something, change something, insert something, create something, and work something over…something. Would that remove the banality?

The “have to have it by 5:00” type of demand often discards the permission to think. I have to say some of my best ideas have been birthed by the rare luxury of time. Even the things that I write have come from time wrestling with an idea, a thought, a belief system, a structure, an opinion. Our first thoughts are not always correct, our initial assumptions are not always precise and if given opportunity to think about something not only could we improve, but we could make our life richer. Technology and the gathering of information has certainly led to many advances (and kept us alive), yet I believe we have become the benefactors of prior ingenuity more than ones to perpetuate it. Does this make us lazy?

I have to wonder if our ability to reason through architecture’s issues and generate solutions weakens as we increase in information. Yes, I’m being extreme to make a point – you’re already thinking of a counterpoint right? New challenges, new struggles, and uncharted territory you say? Don’t send comments to persuade me to embrace technology – I haven’t given up on it.

My thoughts migrate to that farmer a century or two ago that had to fix something with the limited materials he owned. He might have spent the day pondering about it and then worked until dusk after thinking of a solution. No internet, no phone, no library – just a man and his hands and a few limited tools working through a solution.

I rarely see the interest in the need to ponder and reflect on solutions because we assume someone else before us has already done that. The information is shared and the struggle is dismissed because we simply look something up and the answer is there. We haven’t the patience for it, we haven’t the time for the pain.

I have to wonder what that really costs.

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photo 1 photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc
photo 2 – lee calisti
photo 3 photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc
thanks for the lyric references carly, nobody does it better

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no time to wonder 

13 thoughts on “no time to wonder 

  1. some of my clients do think it’s just a matter of googling the answer. I find my time to ponder away from the office. I feel it’s non-billable time unless I commit to paper in a formal way.
    sometimes i have to leave the office, get off the clock, get on the sofa and tune out the static to come to a ‘thoughtful’ solution.

    that’s a good time!

  2. Lee, once again it seems like you’ve been in my head, tapping into my own thoughts. I’ve been having the conversation with some friends lately about architects having the luxury of some time to work through design problems so they’re the best they can be. Indeed I’m often rushed by clients who want to build yesterday. What they don’t realize is if they took more time (within some limits), we could create even better architecture for them. Your quote: “Yet the impact of time and money on architecture constantly cheats this process” resonates deeply with me. Excellent, timely and spot on post. Thank you for expressing this for us in your blog!

  3. Seamstressy says:

    All throughout school we were encouraged not to “reinvent the wheel”. But I feel that I learn more by working things out for myself from scratch than just taking someone else’s solution and trying to customise it. In my creative endeavours, I prefer creating my own solutions rather than following someone else’s pattern or guide. But it is a handy shortcut when you don’t want to make the effort to learn in a different field.

    1. There’s a difference between “reinventing the wheel” and looking at something fresh. So that’s an unfortunate experience for you. However, I also don’t believe we ever start with a blank sheet of paper. There is information about the project embedded in each commission along with our past experiences and intuition. I don’t find that a bad thing. What I am frustrated with it a cookie-cutter approach to architecture or the mentality that assumes that’s how we work – or worse telling us to work that way.

  4. I understand the need for contemplation and the frenzy to produce a solution, and how quickly we get hooked on the speed of technology. Part of the answer is in your farmer analogy. Faced with a problem he (farmer) got down to solving it with the tools at hand. There was no time for contemplation. Often contemplation and procratination lead to a blank page. Let’s not forget that necessity is the mother of creation.

    1. Well, I’m going to at least partially disagree or at least clarify my intentions. With the farmer analogy, he had to ponder in the sense that he had to figure out a solution without consulting anything other than his own mind. Depending on his problem, he might not be able to solve it quickly. Contemplation is vastly different than procrastination.

  5. wmello1934 says:

    Lee,
    All clients, knowingly or not, compel: The Scope, Schedule, Cost and Architecture of a project. And for that they expect the best from their Architect.
    Being a “Standup Architect” in the project is what counts.
    If those of us wish to be a “Starchitect” then marry a rich woman/man or come from a family that has the power to influence the available outcomes.
    I have achieved neither of the two above,
    I have concluded that my best architectural thinking, decisions and presentations have ben made standing on my feet since I learned the basics of object description in mechanical drawing and “extemp” thinking at debate excersises.
    I you have the faith that you know how to apply the knowledge of all the building disciplines and the technics of communicating them to achieve the clients due.
    Bill Mello

  6. Have you read Seth Godin’s “Linchpin”? I feel like this is a strain of his commentary on the cog-worker vs the irreplaceable person. Our generations have now been groomed to take an order and complete the task, not to think. We’ve created very wonderful drones…very few artists.

    1. No, I haven’t read it, but am now curious. Actually up until recently people were groomed to be cog-workers, factory workers or ones to take orders. Think about the history of the past millennium or two. Even our school systems years ago were based on the model of sitting still, listen to the teacher and do what you’re told. For me it’s improving, but we have to maintain a balance of listening first before becoming a complete anarchist. The balance could shift with the Montessori mentality and the entitled attitude. There needs to be order but it doesn’t have to be by a despot boss. I also think people allow themselves to become replaceable. I know many people who hate their jobs and just want the weekend to come. I find that very sad. It motivates me in an opposite fashion since I truly love what I do. I’d love to be described as Seth’s artist.

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