Suspended Disbelief


A Dash of ______

Volume 5, Issue 19
April 23, 2020

I’m much better at cooking than baking for the same reasons that I’ll never be a sensitive and minimal designer. I cannot measure the perfectly proportioned elements ahead of time and combine them in an elegant rhythm. I have to figure it out as I go, make decisions with, perhaps, not enough careful consideration, and address the consequences later. Turmeric will probably go with this? We’ll see.

Several times I’ve made the mistake of setting out on a design problem in a 100% pragmatic state of mind. In these instances, I was prepared to carefully consider the needs of every contextual element and stakeholder simultaneously. But this mindset makes me cautious and uncreative. It prevents me from doing, and makes my objects too precious to ever be worth anything. Jurors aren’t upset with these projects, but they don’t find them interesting either. All of my best projects (at least to me, and right now I’m the only one who has to eat my own cooking, besides Andrew) start with some suspension of disbelief—allowing myself to do something strange, ridiculous, or confrontational, and then figuring it out from there. My studio critic and I briefly ignore the fact that my first design intuition will never be built, that it’s entangled with elements that architects have no
control over, or that it makes its occupants’ lives more difficult to prove a point.

Each semester inevitably reaches the point where I have to reckon with my suspended disbelief and make the project actually work (or, at least, a studio level of working). At this point, things get worse—much worse. But at the moment when an unresolved idea collides with a poorly placed fire stair in an illogical pile that I can hardly stand to look at any longer, I know that things are about to get better. My projects always follow the same pattern: a promising idea blossoms, crashes and burns, and then is slowly resolved from the mess. Every decent project of mine tends to get worse before it gets better. If it never gets worse, the idea wasn’t worth struggling with in the first place. I cook because baking doesn’t get worse before it gets better; it requires precision from the start. Once it’s in the oven, you can only cross your fingers. In cooking, you build flavor, taste and correct. Even if you add too much salt, you can always add more of everything else.

I wonder about the consequences of my process in the real world. When actual lives stand to be affected by your work, you should be pragmatic and sensitive to their needs. You should think before you do. I don’t know what to make of the fact that my most sensitive project is a vanilla cake snooze fest. One of the guest critics on this particular vanilla cake review told me he could see my project being built, and he meant that as an insult. Maybe I’ll get better at baking, but in my seven years of architecture school, I’ve learned that my design process is Chopped, not The Great British Baking Show.

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Volume 5, Issue 19
April 23, 2020

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