This I believe… I believe in the value of architecture.
When I was a very young lad, I came to the decision that I wanted to be an architect. Then, I wasn’t exactly well informed as to what that meant. Later in high school, I thought my choice was reaffirmed because I had the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects, and to translate those concepts easily into drawings. It wasn’t until I reached university that I began to understand the broad scope of what architecture entailed. More than solely the engineering aspects of how to make a structure stand, or what materials are used and how they are assembled, architecture is about what your surroundings can make you feel.
When I arrived at my freshman design studio at University of Illinois at Chicago, I was there to try to start a career, and to generate a basis for a life for me and my girlfriend. But, the collapse of that personal relationship clouded my goals for a while. That was until classmates made me realize that I was studying something that I enjoyed…for me… not for anyone else. So I focused my life on my studies and at that point architecture became my lifelong love.
“Architecture” is hard to describe. Webster’s dictionary does so as “The art or practice of designing and building structures… especially habitable ones”. I think there is much more to it than that. Something that is more than the sum of its parts is said to have a “synergy”. For me, the ability to create that synergy is the meaning of “Architecture”.
Many people design and build structures, but it is the synergy of that built environment that determines the quality of the physical and emotional impact on the user. The difference expressed in the terms of vocabulary is the difference between…formal and elegant, between….silly and playful, and between… evocative and inspiring. These pairs of words convey concepts that are much the same but… not. So it is with architecture, where an architect tries to utilize his skills to develop a built environment to be more than just shelter fulfilling a function. Architecture strives to be a place that enhances the lives of those who use it through the synergy of the created space.
Architecture… in many ways is also about time. Good architecture needs to express the history of the past it symbolizes, the story of the present, which it embodies, and it becomes the narration of the future it will represent. It is for those reasons architects design places that are contextural with the community around it, yet modern in attitude to be current with today, and innovative enough to stride forward with the advances technology will bring us in the future.
When you look around at the community in which you live, odds are that the prized neighborhoods are the ones with an individualistic architectural character, a character that represents the neighborhood as much as the people within. However, we are at a time now when this country has littered itself with suburban sprawl and the cardboard cutout architecture of throw-away buildings. We have homogenized our countryside with mile and mile of endless roads dotted with big box retail centers, fast food franchises and convenience stores until we can’t tell whether we are in Abilene or Peoria. We have stretched our resources to provide infrastructure we can only utilize by an automobile based society, and soon energy costs will make us realize the benefits of living in a more sustainable environment
Good architecture and planning brings a quality to life that enhances the people, enriching the end result. Well designed schools help develop better students. The synergism in good healthcare architecture enhances the healing process. A well-planned community engenders public interaction. Good design stimulates the mind and the soul, bringing enthusiasm to the surroundings and the people within.
For me, architecture… as well as my wife and daughter, have been the loves of my life, and in my times of trouble, my salvation. I believe that great architecture and planning can also be the salvation for our communities as well.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.