Posts Tagged ‘Le Corbusier


Design Wisdom: Yearning isn’t enough

The “Y” element in my alphabetic mnemonic list for successfully practicing design is:

Yearning isn’t enough.

Yearning for the perfect design opportunity is like waiting for the perfect lover.

A college education opens worlds of possibilities and inspires a yearning for realizing the potential of one’s chosen medium. But yearning isn’t enough. You need to find ways to make it happen.


How does opportunity happen?

Think of some of the seminal buildings of 20th Century architecture:
— Saynatsalo Town Hall by Alvar Alto
— Church on the Water by Tadao Ando
— Chapel and Convent of the Capuchinas by Luis Barragan
— Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry
— Chapel of Saint Ignatius by Steven Holl
— Kimbell Art Museum by Louis I. Kahn
— Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut by Le Corbusier
— Douglas House by Richard Meier
— Sidney Opera House by Jorn Utzon
— American Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams and Billie Tsein
— Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright
— Val Thermal Baths by Peter Zumthor

Do you think the respective clients of the projects above were just sitting there awaiting those particular buildings to arrive? Absolutely not! Take Disney Hall for example. Several years ago I took the architectural audio tour of the building. The recording included architect Frank Gehry relating conversations he’d had with the patron Lillian Disney. At the outset of the project she described how she and Walt were enchanted by masonry castles of Europe, encumbered with climbing vines. She asked Frank Gehry to capture that spirit. There was assuredly no mention of curving stainless steel panels! And yet, she was presumably enchanted by the final built concert hall – with nary a vine or castle-like feature.

The point is, with rare exception does one encounter a patron who shares your yearnings / aspirations. Your job therefore doesn’t end with your being able to imagine a fabulous new world. You need to educate and excite others to join the expedition. And ideally, they are enlisting you to join on their own expedition simultaneously in the project. The best projects are those where client and architects are both realizing their own goals alongside others and finding themselves in a landscape of realization beyond their own ideas.

Realizing good design

To me, the phrase “realizing good design” is rather a double entendre. The first meaning is “becoming aware”, learning to understand and appreciate what good design is – like becoming a detective or connoisseur. The second meaning is “making it happen”. Our education and apprenticeship aim primarily at instilling mastery in the first arena. But it is unquestionably a mastery of the second arena which enables our success in practice.

How to make it happen

How do we as designers “make it happen”? Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer. It really comes down to learning what your own strengths are and how to use them effectively with others. And yet there are some general truisms, some of which have been touched upon earlier in the “Wisdom” series. For instance, having and displaying passion goes a long way. Passion tends to be contagious. Also, taking risks, or “having skin in the game” facilitates people believing in you and taking a risk with you – not having them feel like you’re asking them to assume all of the risks alone.

Most often though, making it happen involves your going the extra mile. This is where yearning is needed as a start. Yearning is what gets you to aspire to more than the client envisions or is asking for. The yearning is what drives you to come up with that idea that no one else has seen or even looked for. Harness that yearning to get yourself to find ways to make things happen – rather than waiting for people to realize the possibilities which you have to offer.

An example from design practice

Early in my career as an architect, my boss “handed off” an interior design project to me for a small town drugstore. Everyone, the client and my boss alike, looked at the project as “routine” without much room for creative input. The functional layout, largely predetermined by operational considerations for staffing efficiencies, resulted in the customer service pharmacy counter being positioned in the rear, as is often the case. The shelving and displays between the entrance and the counter, while critical for merchandizing, felt to be at odds with customer service in the rear.

Analyzing the problem I yearned for there to be some synergy, rather than conflict, between the merchandizing and customer service needs. I recalled the radial geometries of the stacks employed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in several of his libraries. Ultimately I was able to produce a design using radial display shelving (and accompanying radial overhead lighting) which resulted in a more inviting merchandizing environment and an emphasizing of the pharmacy counter. The “surprises” created between the interactions of the rectangular building shell and the radial interior fit-out enabled a richness of spaces for display, customer services and seating. The results exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Use a yearning for better design to serve as your springboard to exceed what’s expected.

Remember, Yearning isn’t enough.

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic features the letter Y, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Yellow and Yellow-green, and a photo of a Yearning adventurer jumping to action.


Design Wisdom: Joy is Contagious

The “J” element in my alphabetic mnemonic list for successfully practicing design is:

Joy is Contagious.

Our founding fathers almost got it right: “…life, liberty and the pursuit of…”

Joy. It seems like a dirty word, or something that’s too good to ask for. And yet we’ve all experienced it and been profoundly affected by it. Why not spread it?


Happiness versus joy: What’s the difference?

Both joy and happiness are rooted in pleasure caused by a good or satisfying experience. But they’re not the same. Happiness lies on the surface of emotions. Joy is what emanates from within – a glowing resonance. Happiness is getting an A on the exam. Joy is mastering the subject matter.

Don’t get me wrong. Happiness is important, very important. But while happiness is about the pleasure of the moment, joy is more a “take-away” of lasting satisfaction. Joy is a triumphant contentment, a deep-seated sense of connectedness to values that have personal positive meaning. While happiness is usually fleeting, joy stays with you. I like characterize the difference as: Happiness you rent. Joy you own.

Positive passion

Dating back to the ancient Greeks, joy has been classified not merely as a feeling but as a primary passion of humanity. According to Plato, there were four cardinal passions, created by a matrix of positive vs. negative and present vs. future: Joy, Sorrow, Hope and Fear. For Plato, joy was feeling positive in the present.

It follows that there must be some benefit to focusing on what is positive about the present. And obviously this attitude isn’t restricted to designers. We can all benefit from being infected by joy!

Joy as process

Even outside the realm of design, joy can play a highly desirable role. Think of when you’re in a meeting — or any social setting, for that matter. One person radiating joy and optimism can electrify an entire group. And what follows can turn into a ripple effect — those newly inspired people infect still others with optimism. Joy is almost like a virus that spreads positive emotions and well-being.

Earlier I characterized joy as being “owned.” It inspires both a deep sense of stability and an increased capacity to reach out – to give or accept more. Joy feeds on itself. It’s the pervasive sense that you’re doing something so profoundly right or well that it’s resonating with your soul. It truly is infectious. Others want you to share it with them.

So, as a designer, think about the next time you’re making a presentation. What tool might you use to “win over” your audience and inflame them with your enthusiasm? Make the joy of what you’re proposing palpable!

Joy as effect

As designers, we typically create objects or “products” for our clients/consumers. We rarely accompany our designs or present them once they are built or produced. They leave the nest — our nest — and fly solo. What can we do to ensure that our “babies” continue to resonate with our enthusiasm?

What we can do — and indeed, the highest aspiration of what any designer should do — is to create embodied joy. What do I mean by this? Embodied joy is passionate optimism made tangible. Embodied joy is the soul of a craftsman. I think you can picture it. Think of a traditional Japanese garden, where deep knowledge of plants and climate, intense appreciation of the subtleties of place and materials, and a passionate optimism combine to create such a profound lyricism that it can’t help but infect any visitor.

We’ve all been infected by the work of the best craftsmen, artists, architects and designers alike, despite having never met them. If only our schools taught us the importance of embodied joy, our cultural artifacts would sing to more of us in our day-to-day lives.

An example from design practice

For a practitioner of architectural design, travel is essential for the soul – a great way to recharge one’s spiritual batteries. (Obviously you can learn a lot, too, but I’m talking about seeking joy.) In the summer before my final year of architecture school, I made a solo architectural pilgrimage throughout Europe to see buildings I had long appreciated from afar – with particular emphasis on Modern architecture.

After being disappointed in finding Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy under reconstruction and closed to the public, I looked forward to arriving at his celebrated chapel of Notre Dame du Haut. I didn’t have a preconceived notion of what the experience would be like. Instead, I simply tried to have an un-premeditated, authentic experience. The chapel was open and no one was “interfering” with visitors, so I was free to roam, in and out and around…I’m guessing for a couple of hours. I don’t think I uttered a word the whole time, although there were a number of other visitors.

I examined the building from close and far, caressed details and viewed overall effects. I watched others experience the building. I watched, listened and smelled the surroundings — catching the sky and the landscape with changing light and breezes. I made sketches and recorded thoughts. I felt like the privileged seeker/archeologist – filled with admiration and seeking clues to how I might accomplish such mastery. It made me feel humble – with a sense of wonder and awe, but extraordinarily glad to be alive and fortunate to be able experience the building firsthand. I still carry that joy with me every day.

Apply your skills with joy and you will not only inspire others during the process but will leave artifacts of your efforts behind which themselves will pass joy to others.

Remember, Joy is Contagious

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter J, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Jade and Jasmine, and a photo of the joy-inducing Notre Dame du Haut.

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