inspiration revisited

photo by Lee Calisti, building by Steven Holl

As we close out 2018, my final thoughts focus on the topic of inspiration. Fitting for an architect – right? Where does it come from or what is its origin? A careful look at my posts from 2011 and one will find the subject stuck in my mind back then. I wrote about it twice.

This is a vital concept for me as an architect as I look back at one of busiest years, where I found it more challenging to find the time (or inspiration) to write. It seems these days architecture is still looking for a way to justify itself or claim its real value in our culture. Architects have consistently elevated its role in our endurance as a race and survival as a planet and yet struggle with our own identity. Find a project (major one at least) in an architectural journal, and we’ll find it has achieved some level of certification, a badge. On the other hand, remove beauty or (brace yourself) art from it, and we will need to concede that there’s no point to it. Shelter alone is not enough. At the risk of sounding shallow, I appreciated the article on Steven Holl in this month’s issue of Metropolis magazine, titled “Art is Enough for Steven Holl,” 10 December 2018.

photo by Lee Calisti, building by Steven Holl

At the risk of skewing the context by inserting a few excerpts of an article, Steven quips, “How do you design?” he asks rhetorically. “I think it’s backward today. It’s all about function and program. Bubble-diagram this, bubble-diagram that. Make some cubes and then put some sloppy curves around it. That’s weak.” Do you get the reference? Later in the article, it continues “Holl’s longtime colleague Chris McVoy, who was the first partner named to SHA, underscores the sentiment: “It’s all idea-driven design, and the ideas are questions aimed at finding the maximum latent potential in any given project.” In other words, “to realize an inspiring work of architecture. We think of architecture as an art. Some of our contemporaries don’t.” I find I’m ok with that.

Let’s explore this for a moment. Where does architectural form originate? What influences its appearance? Some of you are already formulating a response concluding I have missed the point entirely or you cannot believe I’ve said it (written it) out loud, and want to thank me for my bravery (or bravado).

metaphoric, symbolic, formal presuppositions
branding, functional, parametric

How does inspiration add to a project? How does it move it forward? Does our inspiration merely lead to the form – or does it make it…useful? Can it just initiate the form or does it need to stay? Is the shape an intentional imposition or does it allow the building’s use to work…better?

narcissistic, willful, genius
contributor, humble, submissive

So often I feel this is excused or overlooked as a luxury or personal. How important is the root idea – is it the driving force – the architectural parti (look it up – it’s a thing)? When do we let it go, does it lead to the next step only, or it retained? Are we too overshadowed with the shroud of science that we’ve lost the ability to render our ephemeral existence worthy? I understand they’re not mutually exclusive – no lectures on balance, economy or some self-righteous higher duty. I’m already there.

I’m rambling as I depart this year. I know that I’ve found the clamor of the media tiring as I stare at a hectic year ahead. I’m opening the year with three major adaptive reuse projects that I don’t know how they’ll get completed other than a history that demonstrates that it did, and it will. I feel blessed.


I just know I have to turn down the noise. I need new inspiration.

inspiration revisited

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