I have looked back over my work of the past few years with general dissatisfaction, a sense of gnawing unease, a lack of fulfillment. I have always told myself, as a salve to my sense of worth, that this was only because I had learned so much since then. This is true, but not, I think, the root.
I often say I am a ‘fixer.’ I am happiest when I have a problem to chew on. I like puzzles and complex games. After four years of study, only now is my work becoming truly satisfying. I always loved it, or I would not have lasted this long, but before I loved the idea of it, having not experienced the truth of it.
Today I went to a design charette for the new multicultural center with a group of architects from Moody Nolan and DLR Group. It started at 8:00 am and finished after 6:00 pm. At the end of the morning session, I was excited. By the middle of the afternoon I had an adrenalin high. Here, at last, was a problem I could sink my teeth into!
Input came flying from all directions. Problems previously un-contemplated were identified. Initial design directions and programmatic decisions were stood on their heads. Many factors, each influencing the other, all had to come together. Many voices had to be heard - and were. Much credit goes to the design team, who were open, positive, and energetic for the entire day. These were not theoretical abstracts, like how does one embody the concept of music in architecture. These were real problems, like how does one handle the grade change from the union’s main level to the multicultural center’s main level to the street level.
I realize now my previous projects were like playing chess with a dog. It is still chess, but no matter how you move the pieces, you are virtually guaranteed success. In such a situation, would you really play your best game?
I look back on the years I spent fencing. When I fenced with those at a higher level than myself, I fenced my best. I did better than I had any right to expect, better than my opponent often expected as well. When I fenced those below me, though I still won, I fenced poorly and was often confused and frustrated. So I always wanted to fence those who were better than myself. I wanted to ‘play with the big boys.’
As a child and a teen, I never wanted to spend time with people my own age. I always made friends with people older than myself, wiser. Occasionally people have come to believe this was because I thought of myself as their peer, their equal in skill or knowledge, or even that I thought myself better than them. I do not believe I am equal to those skilled and gifted people, only that in the challenge of their presence I may somehow become better than I am.
Only when the going gets rough, do I find it worth going.