Muddy Boots and a Full Heart

31 07 2011

I never feel more connected to the world around me than I do when I get a chance to play in the dirt. There is something sensual and revitalizing about getting dirty – the feel and smell of freshly turned earth; the wind on your cheek; the sun on the back of your neck.

My mother did her best to instill a fear of all things dirt, and for the most part I dutifully spent my early years in the quiet pursuit of art and literature. But I liked to build things, and inevitably that led to a soul-satisfying grubbiness. Some of my happiest memories from childhood were of making: a model log cabin with my father; a fort with my best friend; box and lawnmower mazes in the big, open field behind our houses with the neighborhood kids. What with Legos and Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and Erector Sets, I was predestined to become an architect.
In my teens, I became a Boy Scout, which deepened my feelings of connection through the dirt. One year, we participated in winter ritual Klondike Derby. Too bad it was one of the warmest winters on record for southern Germany. We spent the day trudging through the mud, dragging a sledge filled with supplies behind us. By the time we got home that night, we were coated head-to-toe in caked, dusty mud, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t have been happier.

Yes; whether it’s hiking in the rainforest, digging in the garden, or laying a patio by hand, I have dirt under my nails and in my soul. It lets me feel connected to everything; a part of the process. It goes a long way in explaining how I practice my craft.

In college, I came up with a quote explaining my vision of architecture: Architecture is the earth, through human activity and aspiration, reaching for the sky. That inspirational bit of pretense aside, good design first supports and nurtures human activity. No amount of awe or delight in the viewer is going to keep the heat in or the rain out, if the building is designed or built poorly.

That said, I get a charge from the act of creating spaces and places that work – designs that evoke a “Yes!” response from the Client, and a “Wow!” response from the User. And you can’t reliably get those kinds of responses without really getting in and knowing the client; knowing their challenges, their pains, their struggles; as much or more than knowing what makes them smile.

The same thing is true of the Contractor: you’ve got to know their pain, and work to eliminate it. You’ve got to make the design easy for the contractor to build, not simplistic, but clearly documented, thoughtfully detailed, and well laid out. And you’ve got to be willing to get your boots muddy and your hands dirty.

So far in my career, I have found by fully participating, I have gotten as much from the people I’ve connected with as I have given. By listening and being open to those around me, I have learned to become a better designer. Sure, by listening and fully serving my client’s vision, I’m not always building a thick portfolio of published work, but I’m not in it to stroke my own ego. I’m in it to be part of the process. Let’s connect.