tons of concrete are a drop in a bucket

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?



10 thoughts on “conversation

  1. I am slightly depressed that I am the first comment – it’s a little like to preachers proselytizing to one another because I can relate to this post in a way that few others possibly could. While I tend to agree with you on almost all things, I think you might be selling yourself a bit short when you summarily dismiss your thoughts on all non-architecture related topics. It has been my experience that the way we (architects) view and process information is different than others and that we typically excel at cutting through the A, B, and C’s to get to the root of the matter (i.e. it’s not the windows that you like, it’s the light coming through them). This ties back to my thinking that one of the more important skill sets anyone can develop is the ability to ask a question that advances the conversation towards a certain point in space. Two talking heads don’t accomplish much but if at least one is navigating the course that the conversation takes, the end result is typically that … an end result. And shouldn’t architects be good at driving towards end results?

    Back to you.

    1. Perhaps my comment about my opinions being worthless is just self-deprecating hyperbole, but if I get into political discussions and I hear “facts” and figures thrown around to support a point (opinion), I’m lost. I can’t rattle off objective reasons for why I favor or don’t favor a politician or other leader. However, I appreciate your confidence in me and I agree that in a conversation, someone leading it helps, otherwise, it’s just a casual light conversation over coffee that is just for entertainment. I often get weird looks for pointing out that it is the light coming through the windows and not the windows that one likes. I’m also really bad at small talk, I want to head towards an end result, but I’m comfortable in ambiguity.

  2. Sean Tobin says:

    Lee, love this post, as I do many of yours. I could go on about each point, but suffice it to say that I have appreciated your positions on many topics, and concur with you about the definition of a conversation, as well as the sad fact that I think we have lost the art of holding one (in a general societal way).

    As to where to take the blog – I think that your best nine show it clearly enough. I’d like to hear more about WHY you make your decisions about design, materials, process, etc. And I think that those posts may stray a little from being strictly about architecture, and into other aspects of who you are as a person (who is also an architect).

    Whatever you choose to share, I look forward to reading in 2018.

    1. I will take your suggestions seriously as I respect your point of view. Maybe I need to be more transparent, but I’m all for sharing more about architectural decisions. Thanks for reading and more importantly, thanks for joining the conversation. That’s where things happen.

  3. After a great amount of hesitancy (I have been staring at my keyboard for half an hour), I will submit to the three of you and anyone else who becomes involved with this conversation, that there is nothing more relevant, important, or as significant than the advancement of sustainable, performance-driven, and resilient practices to lessen and help neutralize global warming and specifically climate change. The overly divisive nature of this topic is the cause of my hesitancy. And I truly believe (not because I am trying to be nice by saying so), the approach to having a conversation(s) as suggested in this blog is absolutely the best way to begin a vital discourse in our country to overcome what has become unnecessarily a gravely misunderstood and politically charged topic. Generally, I thought the welcome but incredibly tardy article written by Ned Cramer in the October 2017 Architect Magazine is a good starting point, but it’s 50 years late. And of course, the November issue is back to business as usual. I have greatly examined both “sides” of the science as objectively possible, and as a believer, I cannot help but consider what the Bible says as well. I believe we must love one another and take care of each other, and we must love God’s creation and do everything possible to take care of it as well. So in conclusion Lee, I liked and agree with the statement, “These [Biblical] 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 statement is a good one for think|architect to explore in many ways in 2018. There’s no bigger ball on the court than this planet, our home. Back to you.

    1. Larry, you never need to hesitate to join in, but I appreciate your waiting to craft a good response. I have had many spirited conversations with fellow believers at church and most, not all, tend to have a disappointing take on this, but perhaps due to two things. 1) They’re not architects, thus connected to the built environment like me and 2) their extreme conservative position causes them NOT to be like the extreme environmental activists, thus causing their position as a reaction.

      I still struggle with this issue daily as many of my clients have a waning interest when the cost goes up to address these issues, especially a the small scale in which I operate (less than $1M per project and often less than $500K per project). There is no room for consultants, certifications or any gizmos. It has to be smart, common sense design, but that is generally neglected by the media or awards.We need a badge.

      I think the questions we must find balance in are A). How do we find balance in worshiping the Creator and not the creation, B). How do we operate in a profession that doesn’t share our world-view in terms of origins and C). What does it really mean to be a good steward and have dominion? People (and their eternal souls) are more important than anything, including plants, animals, hills or valleys. Also, depending on one’s end-time position, they will respond with a level of enthusiasm towards the planet accordingly. I don’t think it’s that simple, so if we come across someone who claims to follow Jesus, but has a different level of urgency towards sustainability or environmental issues, I think we need to allow them room and invite them to…a conversation.

  4. Lee, good response. Glad to know you are having spirited conversations with believers and the others you meet. We need much more of these conversations. You’re right about those outside the profession being much more disconnected from global warming and its consequences. The challenges need to be made clear for everyone: loss of life and habitats, loss of food, water, and natural resources, increasing magnitude of unnatural disasters, economic polarization, social inequality, etc. Caring for our planet is one topic we should all agree upon. Instead we’re at war. People have been overly influenced to think these issues originate from scientific or environmental extremists, but when they engage with people like you, our colleagues, or me, there is an opportunity to make some real progress. Climate change is simple to understand—it comes from a polluted atmosphere, no different than polluted soil or water—and it’s human-made.

    I appreciate the nature of your work, especially as a sole proprietor, having to deal with smaller projects and budgets. Because much of your work involves renewal, renovation, additions, and adaptive reuse, along with your time spent as a professor, architectural review board member, and blogger, you have ample opportunity to make many contributions regarding sustainable practices. And you always elevate, making places and buildings better for others, not yourself. These qualities and your commitment to detail are what makes your practice “sustainable.” The profession needs thousands more like you. As you know, I believe and have tried to demonstrate it’s the smaller, practical things which make a difference and they are achievable without the need for consultants, certifications, or any gizmos. Yes! Smart, common sense design, generally neglected by awards and the media. Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges! (My attempt at humor. Sorry. Sidebar: what’s really challenging is when you get older, your conversations must avoid phrases which people have never heard of before, like quoting The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Monkees, or Mel Brooks. But I digress.)

    From a Biblical perspective, climate change concerns have nothing to do with worshiping the creation, nor does it deserve dismissal because the end times are near. No, it’s about failing to honor the Creator by wasting and polluting His creation. Genesis 1:28 says: “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’” (NRSV). God tells us to subdue the earth, entrusting us to be the custodians of the planet’s resources, which implies a duty and responsibility to everyone. Subdue does not give anyone the right to ruin or destroy. Rather, dominion means ruling like a king. What kind of kings should we be? Solomon 8:12-14 says, “He delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence, he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” (NRSV) What kind of king does God detest? God speaks out in a tirade against Israel’s kings in Ezekiel 34:4, “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” The dominion God desires is one that protects the defenseless and gives justice to the oppressed. By applying these principles to God’s command to humanity to subdue and exercise dominion over creation, we can see while we rule over creation, we’re called to protect it—until the Lord returns. Believers and non-believers who dismiss climate change apocalyptically are self-absorbed, obviously showing no regard for their children, grandchildren, or for others who look to the future with hope and promise.

    As always, thanks for listening. Did I scare everyone else away? Let’s keep moving the discussion by our beliefs and actions in the way we practice. The last comments on this thread are reserved for you, my friend. Promise.

  5. Lee, I completely agree that the volume of, well just about everything, seems to be turned up. I’m thinking this is both a good thing; we get to learn more and more about the world around us; and a bad thing; we get to learn more and more about the world around us. Circular nonsensical logic right there. As for learning to listen, I’m finding myself lately realizing I too need to stop and take in what someone else is saying before I think about responding and even deciding if a response is appropriate.

    Recently I was in a quick conversation where the other person said what they thought was one of the worlds most amazing architectural achievements. Although I didn’t actually say anything at what they had mentioned, I knew the expression on my face was doing it for me. Needless to say I had about a dozen different places pop into my head with the first few seconds and none of them were even remotely close to what their suggestion was. Fail!

    Around the same time I had someone mention to me, you post jogged this memory, that they wanted to replace all of the soffit material at the second floor of their house because a small portion of the Hardi-board was starting to fail. They wanted to replace it with vinyl, that way it would match the siding on the back and the soffit material under the front porch. I kept my mouth shut and just listened. I realized in that situation, they were not looking form an opinion, just informing me of a decision that they were already set on. I simply nodded that I understood what they were going to do, and we moved on, even though I was screaming on the inside. Success!

    Anyways, great post, and now I will gladly pass the ball back to you.

    1. You make some great points and having the restraint not to respond is a skill and discipline. We talk so often either verbally or on FB with our phones that it appears we are asking for a response, when in fact, at best we want validation. Oftentimes, validation is not in order, but neither does a rebuttal move anything in a positive direction. People will still use vinyl sadly. I appreciate your comments and I am making myself accountable (see earlier post) by telling the web-world that I still welcome this conversation. I make myself vulnerable by sharing my world-view, information about faith and approach. By putting the guard down, I am open to criticism, but hopefully others will follow suit and when our guards are down, we’ll finally communicate. Cheers.

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