I was taught many years ago to consider a conversation as passing a ball back and forth with someone. One can speak if they have the ball in their hand (or any other object that you’ve heard), but once they pass it to their companion, then they must be silent until they get the ball back. It’s a civil way to communicate, but what I observe most of the time is people speaking simultaneously, with increasing volume. Perhaps it’s a Pittsburgh thing, but I’ve grown up watching people (largely my Italian family) somehow carry on while they are all speaking at the same time – with no one offended that the other is speaking. I admit with shame, that I do this at times – in other words, Americans, often won’t stop talking until the next person starts. In my dozen years of teaching students from around the world, I found this awkward trait common mostly to Americans.
We’ve lost the art of listening or conversing – if we ever had it in the first place. Now we shout and find honor in being boisterous and obnoxious feeling vindicated because our foe does the same. I still believe in ladies and gentlemen even if that is vastly unpopular.
The past several years has not been the best in our history, and I blame everyone. At least prior to social media, the noise level seemed quieter or at least it was easier to hide, maybe for the wrong reasons. I’m not a news guy and I’m even less of a political guy. I think they should all be dismissed – all of them including the major media outlets. Maybe I just need to disengage more.
I cannot disengage about architecture – the conversation I’ve alluded to is exactly why I started a blog seven years ago. Since 2011, I’ve invited – and at times begged, people to join a conversation with me. In 351 posts exploring and sharing how architects think, I’ve attempted to get people to understand how architects think. It’s accomplished by holding the ball and then at the end, I pass it to you.
Now, let’s clarify something, a conversation isn’t about consensus or agreement; it’s not about vitriol or acerbic responses either. I have often challenged people’s thinking about architecture and shared strong opinions. I’ve corrected people’s faulty logic (i.e. when a fact was stated and then backed with opinion), but in almost every case, I’ve thanked the person for sharing. I welcome diverse opinions on architecture and I find that much more fun. More satisfaction comes from someone sharing something that makes me think. ‘Bobble-head’ responses are OK, but they don’t advance a conversation.
I don’t mind being corrected, but we need to distinguish between fact and opinion (I can’t believe I said that). Correcting my opinion will probably receive a returned favor, but teaching me something will get you a thank you, and sharing a story will keep me engaged. For instance, I still hate vinyl siding; an earlier blog post used the word loathe. No one has ever written in that they love it and wish to clad every surface of their house with it, but I’ll admit, that statement is an opinion. As an architect, my opinion on architectural matters might be more valid than yours, that is if you are not an architect. My opinion on most other matters is worthless.
Conversations die quickly when we demean someone’s opinion – that includes opinions that disturb you or make you shout. Look, I put ketchup on my hot dogs (with a little onion if possible, or Ted’s chili sauce) and I’ve found the mustard eaters to demand me to cease this activity as if they’d make it illegal if it was possible. Don’t try to convert me, I’m not changing. However, if you’d like to share your story of how your dad taught you how to eat a hot dog in the backyard while cooking for a picnic, I’d love to hear it, even if it includes mustard or relish or…cream cheese.
I don’t hide my opinions on architecture from anyone and I’ll often find a conversation with non-architects turn silent quickly as my volume level rises when there’s a news story relating to architecture, urban design or cities. I just get excited and they get bored. But as an architect, I’m compelled to listen to how others see these things if I’m ever going to make a real difference.
My hope for 2018 is to observe civil conversations from people and groups who share different values. I’d love to see more architecture featured from unknown architects making a difference in unknown cities (despite getting a ‘Dear John’ letter from Arch Daily today). Projects without a badge (certifications) should get recognition if the owner and architect stretched their dollars as far as they could, and the project tells a remarkable story, and is composed well, regardless. I may have to disengage even more from social media if Facebook and Twitter continue to be full of angry birds dropping their bombs and running cowardly. I’ve almost had my limit. Tell more stories, it might reduce the noise.
It’s possible my world-view and core values differ from yours. I might even enrage some of you, but I base mine on the Bible, not people or leaders that claim to do the same. I hate labels. These core values and this world-view drives my approach to architecture whether it’s how I treat people or how I treat this planet. This blog will continue to focus solely on architecture and architects, but I’ll talk to anyone through other mediums outside of this blog on most other topics.
Now I need a new direction, a different focus or something to fuel my writing and engage my mind. My time is more limited than when I started in 2011, so I’m not sure where to take think|architect in 2018. I’m open. I share my #bestnine2017 photo below to show you what gets me excited.
Now I am going to hand you the ball.
What do you think?