JEONGYOON SONG (M.Arch I, 2018)
Though the specifics of each episode vary, the stories that Italo Calvino records in Marcovaldo are all variations on one theme. The protagonist—whom the book is named after—rejoices in the delicacy of mushrooms springing from a rainfall, waiting with excitement for the moment of harvest; he tosses at night while yearning for a tranquil slumber on a park bench amidst the park green; he grows jealous of his son, who escapes the grime of the city to herd cows in the mountain pasture. But the mushrooms end up being poisonous, the park just as riddled with discomforts as the bed at home, and his son returns a worn out soul having toiled as a farm laborer. Romance, it seems, withers in the face of the real.
Like Marcovaldo, we often demand that the stars align: that they compose the perfect environment in which our purest ideas and forms come bursting forth into the world. But just as often, the world fails to deliver this to us, and our architecture—so preciously nurtured in the womb of Rudolph—ends up seeing the light of day only as stillborns.
I wonder, however, if jumping prematurely into mourning leads us to mistake fertile ground for hardened soil. For instance, I spent most of my summer drafting details. It started with doors, which turned into wall finishes, and finally millwork. As I began to articulate the composition of the seemingly insignificant moments in the building—a door jamb, a wall panel, a banquette—it struck me just how vast the building became despite its finitude, and the frequency and depth at which I became lost in it. I constantly and frantically shifted across various scales while struggling to keep a grip on them all; on multiple occasions, I laughed at the thought of having dreamed of one day designing a building on my own let alone opening my own firm, as if I was looking at a naive childhood hope with a shaking head.
To become utterly jaded would be to commit architectural suicide. At the same time, to let it remain sheltered from the world would mean a life never birthed therefore never lived. We find ourselves caught in a dilemma where growing in architecture brings us and our values closer to both life and death.
This can be disheartening news if one sees this as the inevitable death of architectural dreams. But one can choose to believe otherwise—in life following death. Multiple lives are lived and deaths died for the very last rebirth of one’s self and one’s architecture. When understood this way, continual deaths of idealism and radicality become more like breaking ground and less like repeated tragedy.
To remind us of this simple truth, my brother and I often recall the story of my grandfather and his grapevine. One day, the branches withered, and the vine stopped bearing fruit. But having suffered a stroke, thereafter remembering little and forgetting much, my grandfather continued to water the vine every day. Though others in the family saw it as a habit of ignorance and futility, my grandfather persisted in shuffling to his vines every day with a watering can. Today, that grapevine stands in our back fence. Whenever I go home in the summer, its broad leaves climb over the steel framework connecting the fence to our roof, its branches sagging with grapes bursting with sweetness and buzzing with bees.
Thursday, August 31, 2017