Juan Pablo Bonta warns in his 1979 book Archtecture and Its Interpretation "Architects are deluding themselves if they believe that they are addressing submissive audiences, eager to communicate; that their public wants by all means to understand (even to decipher, if necessary) the meaning of architecture as seen by the designer…What people want is to see their own meanings in the environment – with their own systems of values, from their own frames of reference, shaped by the expressive systems that they share with their community but not necessarily with the designer."
Perhaps then, there is something very, very important to learn from the 2002 Pritzker Prize (the Nobel or Pulitzer for architects) winner, Glenn Mercutt. The New York Times author Jim Lewis writes in his 2007 article "It may be easiest to explain who Glenn Murcutt is and what he does by explaining what he isn’t and does not do. To begin with, he doesn’t build outside Australia — never has — and so many of his fiercest fans have never actually seen his work. He has no staff, no draftsmen or model-builders, not even a secretary."
“Think of the building as an instrument that’s picking up all these sounds. So it’s addressing the hydrology, it’s addressing the geomorphology. It’s addressing the typography, the wind patterns, light patterns, altitude, latitude, the environment around you, the sun movements. It’s addressing the summer, the winter and the seasons in between. It’s addressing where the trees are, and where the trees are will tell you about the water table, the soil depth, climatic conditions," Mercutt told Lewis. “Our early survival was entirely related to observation. Listening, seeing, smelling, touching. We learned to read the water [when swimming]; to read the depth of the water, the way our bodies work in water. And air and water work in very similar ways. So to understand this was to understand currents and wind patterns. Then you understand topography, because topography defines the way wind will go.”
This is why Mercutt has turned down numerous offers for projects outside Australia, urban projects, big, flashy office compexes and skyscapers. In his 70's, he claims to only just started to understand the rural outback where he practices, and couldn't dream of trying to design elsewhere.
This semester I have met architects from firms which have thousands of employees and hundreds of offices. They boast opportunities to travel, in the US and internationally, which I would dearly love. Yet, Bonta's warning rings in my ears. The sollution I see is the path of Glenn Mercutt - as he quotes Thoreau: “Since most of us spend our lives doing ordinary tasks, the most important thing is to carry them out extraordinarily well.” Coming to know my client so as to intimately understand those meanings, values, and references they desire to see in their environment. And, more importantly, discovering a client with whom I share those values. That is a driving force behind my exploration of a "Dharmic Architecutre."
Mercutt: "Any work of architecture that has been designed, any work of architecture that has the potential to exist, or that exists, was discovered. It wasn’t created. Our role” — and the “our” seemed to refer to everyone on the planet — “is to be the discoverer, not the creator.”