Construction Lines: Tracing Generational Collaboration
Luck, Fate, or Happy Accident?
Generations of back-breaking labor, crushing rock, pouring concrete, laying pavers, paving streets. Fate was the combined hidden hopes of a family who wishes to see a life outside of the dust; a family that invested in the opportunity to longingly gaze at the dust from the comfort of paper. Each one of us took for granted the foundations that lead us to pursue our dreams. The only difference being that the foundations we poured were physical, our greatest asset was this subsequent transfer of knowledge. Each layer contained one hundred years of hope that our family may have slowly climbed its way out of the formwork and into the polite public spaces that were framed by it. The narrative begins one lucky day in a barbershop, an immigrant asked for a favor that has since transcended his efforts into the work of three lifetimes.
Every week Jimmy drove from Boston to New York. The grueling drive took days as the max speed of his truck was only 28 miles per hour and half the roads were made of mud. He had a wife and three kids. Crying and beating his chest, his wife begged him to look for another job. Please, something close, anything. He stepped out of the house and fell into a barbershop, its checkerboard floor crowded by half the hair in Sicily. A few whispers, a joke, and a favor from a close friend, someone from his hometown. Luck was generated through the concerted action of his community.
With a skeleton crew and his savings spent on shovels and wooden scales, he puts all of his power into the first day’s work. The clang of shovels and calls of “che cazzo” revealed layer after layer of earth. At the end of the second day he sat in the humid trench, a quiet respite from the street life of Commonwealth Avenue above. Within the crater, a 50-foot pipe darkened the sky, its immense heft and threatening demeanor asked if he’s ready for this obligation to society and his future family.
The pipe is in, the road paved, the sidewalks laid. These individual elements curated the world around him, a comprehensive, mutually accepted setting for which the foundations of public discourse and the institutions that run them may develop and evolve into their present form. Jimmy moved on to the next job, and the next one, each time he confronted massive beasts of steel and concrete, taming them for public use. One by one his community grew. His three sons return from war, Joe, Antonio, and Paul. His eyes dimmed, he squinted towards the horizon and realized how far their projects stretched past the roads and networks he had so desperately wished for during his long days of driving. Pavement seemed to enact into thin air as if pre-determined, bubbling up from the ground like the oil that powers his machines. But he can’t take credit for all of it, it was the community that surrounded him, his sons, his friends, his coworkers.
Paul had two sons, who then each had two sons, respectively. The sets of brothers worked tirelessly for decades; every penny saved. I am lucky in that these legacies are represented in the physical world. Every street was a love letter for the subsequent generation. In solidarity, I grew up working in the trench learning the craft, hoping one day I could be involved in this process of making. It is through the cyclical feedback loops of intergenerational knowledge that the concept of luck itself was transcended into fate. Luck as a concept insinuates singular actions and resultants. In contrast the fruits of accumulated knowledge resulted in an exponential growth in the opportunity to work and gain more knowledge suggesting a broader network of action and reaction. Fate itself was an exponential process. Every generation within this process emerged from a new trench, the means and methods expressed through slight changes in color, in texture, in experience through time. These modifications to the physical environment brushed our senses, lightly hinting at the underlying scaffolds that constitute our reality. Only by our attempts to beautify an inherently messy process were these construction lines hidden from public view.
I no longer work in the trench; I brush off the last of the stratified dirt. Through the efforts of this vast temporal community of friends, family, and their kindness, I am the first member to attend university. Admissions committees are blind to this exponential support and luck, which oftentimes eclipses the individual character presented through grades and extracurriculars. During each of my relatives’ lifetimes, Harvard stood apart as the pinnacle of education and wealth. My work as an architect and urban designer acts as a symbolic gesture to these cross generational collaborations, an act of humility and gratefulness for this engineered fate. I leverage the same knowledge, using the same wooden scale that was passed down to me to find a way out of the dust and onto the streets above.