My loafers are falling apart. Sprawled alone with long summer dusk still high and slow through the trees beyond the Kimbell with my back against a bench and my legs flat stretched out across the floor toward the burbling pool I fingered pits in the travertine. I can’t address giants when I am right up against them. The built-in delay to ratifying my experiences is the most troubling part of my tendency to discursion. As satisfying as its blossoms are, fertile enough to perpetuate themselves, dusting forgotten pollen on the longing stigmas of each moment’s flowers, discursive thought is so mired in the tedious process of reflection that the sacrament of mass with an experience comes only through the layered epiklesis of simmering old images or concerns, like layers of immaculately marked onionskin forming a still approximate figure when pressed flat to a sunlit window. The full exposure takes more time than the situation itself occupies so does not quite lend itself to indulgence in the immediate tingling satisfaction of momentary experience. Hedonism this isn’t.
I stumble over those gauzy figures much later as their tortuous profiles overgrow the simple filing system for the rest of my brain’s detritus. Iridescent grackles fluttered and splashed on the far end of the pool then reared up, whistling. I had been traveling in Texas for days. The Kimbell was a giant enough for me to talk back to its thunder in another day or week.
A room in fluorescent light inflects out of the flat space of my recollections like my jittering eye sorting buildings from absence when streetlights black out. I can’t sleep on business travel. No matter how I strip down, shower and scald, dim the lights, turn down the covers, array the heap of pillows, I still feel like I am sleeping in my clothes, still on the clock. It is maybe because of the resulting bleariness that business travel distills my perceptions, rather it distills what my perceptions act upon, reducing the environment to the walls of a tunnel lined by uniform fluorescent lighting where node after node of my experience is gridded off, clocked, and weighed absently like the hours would have passed across a day at my desk.
For all the time I have spent in federal office buildings I have never managed to convene in a room with windows. This is disorienting because the archetypal federal building, dating from the post-mid-century bureaucrat boom, is conspicuous in most urban landscapes for having the most windows. The Cartesian relentlessness of its framed glazing subdivision promotes the figure of the window over the transparency promised by the window opening. The deceptive fenestration of Kafka’s Castle here finds mundane peerage: a building envelope that manifests both the sovereign existence of the individual as one of many and the loss of that individual identity in bureaucratic homogenization through the primary conveyance of promise in architecture – a window to the sky; all of this shrouds a building whose interior we are fortunate enough to gain access to only to find that there are no real windows.
The business of getting a building built is an extension of that building’s argument. The space and character of business communication can be shaped into a self-same vehicle of the building’s notional space, but it must be trodden delicately and knowingly. However even in a model of practice sensitively conceived to support the interests of the building project the front of people weaving under the auspices of several parties will frequently disagree on personal or professional grounds. The building is a silent victim whose nascent physicality is operated on in a theater that has no analog to physicality. When drawings appear on the table they are less the voice of the moment speaking to the building than the seemingly objective defense shoring up of the spoken goals of the players. The only recognizable envelope of the business meeting is personality and profession. These seem the wrong boundaries for communing with the silence of the building. I envy the building’s amnesiac existence out beyond the marshaling of man and material. I envy its silence. I envied it never being in this room.
Metallic conditioned air preserves every spring room I float through. It will follow me, the nothing smell of those rooms instead of the streets. My colleagues are cadavers in the rooms. We all get lots in life; we fall into rackets. I see this one as letting myself die, or die one pixel at a time, in morgues of meetings. I remember thinking, before starting to drink alcohol at a late age, that those scare-sermons in primary education about how alcohol kills brain cells depicted a quantifiable mathematical suicide. I suspected a beer had a quantifiable death toll, perhaps sixty cells. I envisioned the assault having a beginning, like a cartoon bomb fuse sparkling into ash through my brain. Each spent segment jettisoned into a blackened point took with it a fragment of a memory: the texture of carpet in my childhood bedroom; some cognitive ability, the exceptionality of my youthful visual-spatial perception. Business meetings had the same explicit impact on my architectural ardor. The evacuation of those passions must leave a husk like physical death. That husk then becomes the vessel for cynicism about architecture’s perceived subordination to farcical forces like time and money when I know it to be divine. So instead of crumbling like a tomb I slowly petrify into a different person.
I couldn’t think the type of thought the architecture deserved in a forum, in the speed of reaction. Slowed-down reveries distracted me and the meetings languished in the delta far down the resentful river from my original ideals of culturally significant architecture. That the built work would leave us behind and erase our corruption was the only hope I foresaw. Before the building the functioning past is wafer-thin. Like Athena sprung fully armored from Zeus’ skull buildings are encountered as immaculate totalities: environments, shelters, symbolic orders, and enabling vessels. The architect is a mythical figure hearkened through order, vision, and chords of song while the craftsman is an expediter vaguely reminiscent in the traces of hand, tools, and command or lack thereof over the properties of the building materials. If we think of them at all, these vestigial beings do exist, but far behind the black chasm of the professional relationship. Whether good or bad, these meetings are the dead brain cells of the building. In the saddest of afterimages, each cell occupied by a meeting is turned back again from cynicism or disappointment to a calcified physical increment of the building. The way I breathed bland, dim air told me it was the option in which I slowly disappeared.