I think of little beyond escape. The agendas languish holding me in solitary confinement with no sense of time passing, just mummified in all of our halitosis. I insinuate false conclusions with my body language but they don’t take. I follow conversations intently like a psychologist looking for phrasing and tones that might signal the dissolution of the meeting. Just when it seems like another round of inconsequential banter is emerging, someone has the balls to noisily close leatherette folio and start the avalanche of bail-outs. It must be 4:30. I try to get the fuck out of there without sharing an elevator and rush off into the shock of afternoon sun.
I slow into traction with the world like the spring sun appearing unannounced in winter. At the too-nice historic downtown hotel I take off my dress shoes and tie and let the sun into my room for a while through slightly warm white sheers. It deforms around me like a cloud of down. The gauzy figure of the capitol dome is barely material. I like when buildings flatten into the sky, usually through smog. The air itself on me on the bed is like gauze on some mornings in Los Angeles. There was such promise in those vast mornings driving to SCI-Arc downtown for what discoveries, even through the equations of schedule, manic drafting, and riceball lunches might fertilize one facet of the thought-career I fancied I was availing myself to. I wrote a poem quickly on a scrap or receipt:
Mornings when the Transamerica Tower is frisked of the cigaretted city yellowed and its profile is the only blue in the horizon, I see the only remnant of a lost clear night, the dawns of some three hundred rainy days between my collar and my neck.
That was nine years ago. I was meeting with or working with Perry Kulper every day. He was my thesis advisor and I also assisted him in teaching a drawing course for first year graduate students. Inspired by his commitment, my life coalesced into the project of living for work. Even Ashley, my acephalic partner-in-crime, impressed with the martyrdom of Perry’s distant parking spot, took to parking next to his Saab at the edge of the lot in solidarity. The subject of my thesis work, which aimed to liberate architecture from the voice of the architect, may have been at heart more about liberating my work from my voice, which I didn’t trust, and giving it over to Perry. Yet, unknowingly, I think I was emulating what I project now as his own fears. I was not being educated by a practitioner at heart but by a slow-cooker. In the climate around him there was enough enthusiasm for the aspiration towards the full and complex recollection and prognostication of built work that it almost supplanted taking the plunge into the wrighting of one’s own transcribed voice. Of course the perception was that the variegation by which we were approaching our ruminations and reflections, and the intense focus we brought to the chase of each decision back through our constructed attitudes would be the toolkit with which we could approach the building project. But as I recollected in my hotel room, that played out into a fear that my missteps out of the intellectual realm of architecture would have catastrophic repercussions when made flesh, or more truly, that afternoon, that they might not.
Spring sun falls quickly. A confluence between these two worlds – an exhibition of Perry’s work was staged at The University of Texas concurrent to my business travel – has me into my mind for a full night roaming Austin. I call Leach from the hotel to find out if he is out of studio yet, take off my dress shirt and put on some ragged canvas shoes. I feel conspicuous in just the t-shirt. I can’t hide in it. I have grown too comfortable: A Career Man. Coming down on the elevator to the lobby for the evening I always had a somewhat self-satisfied feeling about the bellmen and concierge seeing me in my street clothes. But when I walked through the lobby I felt more humiliated by the extremes. One or both of these costumes was a fraud. I couldn’t tell which I was clinging to or reaching back to. It mattered differently to me in different contexts. In a cross pollination like this I just became generally disgusted. But on foot through the city, and then north of the Capitol, beginning to sweat a bit in the t-shirt, I feel more myself. There is nobody on the streets.
Most everything north of the Capitol, before I got to West MLK, is closed. An odd assortment of daycare centers, old law offices, and a bootmaker lined the street in low-slung 1960s far-past-modernism main-street U.S.A. storefronts made of deep-raked painted-over brick or stucco with mold constellations. The stillness turns their backs to me. Gold foil lettering on the plate glass is blistered. I loved stretches like this where the glass was so black and dirty and the spaces so dark or dim that I could place myself in them between effects of reflection and transparency. These heaps are long dead, held together by coats and coats of paint. I absorb them at the pace of my footsteps. Later something will arise in my hypnagogic cataloging that perhaps was there or wasn’t. I might recall a window onto a stair oddly rotated away from the outside wall but rooted by a ceiling grid that diminishes to different vanishing points than the building, but not at the same tome as the color of the brick or the abscesses of some poor jobsite decisions that have rotted out and been painted over, cobwebs and all. The hindsight that conspires to build a building of impressions is often cobbled together from unrelated flashes.
When something is simple enough to exist in the moment I stop to take a picture. I take pictures of symmetrical things or frame the pictures with symmetrical balance. It either more firmly roots the things in their context or removes them from their contexts, the two roads of cultural aspiration. Context, in an expanded field should include not only the physical site but also the context of convention or of lineage.
What is curious about art or architecture that connects to its context is the gestalt that is established between who is affecting whom. Remaining with the vehicle of symmetry, the building that approaches the bilateral condition in nature with an aim to complete or participate in it is seen as a component in the natural system, a sympathetic building, or ‘of nature.’ Yet at the same time, the nodes that established that symmetry in the context are transformed into additional ‘objects’ in the suite initiated by the building. I take for example the Timberline Lodge at the base of Mount Hood. Its siting approximately capitalizes on the axiality of the mountain and its ascendant centrality and profile ape the mountain’s form. Of course, symmetry in nature (or more broadly, in space) only holds up from particular vantage points. But from the ideal station point, popularized by Stanley Kubrick’s photography of the hotel for The Shining, the mountain and building cannot help but distribute precedence. The building gains power from the mountain by changing it from a picturesque fact to an extraction from nature, a property of the building. It is at these station points in physical space, not the space of the concept or the intellect, that the things we take for granted are perceptually frozen into states of existence in which they don’t belong, and which we typically are barred from entering for their fragility. They are convincing mirages.