Why People Build
when stories abound of the cost, the difficulty, and the time involved? Because for some of us, the essence of building is transforming quotidian, real world needs into art that works for us.
The design of the single family, private home is an architectural touchstone. Even though they take more time, more decisions than ever thought possible, and are utterly irrelevant socially, they are the crucible of how we want to live our lives today.
"When one has finished building one's house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really wanted to know in the worst way--before one began."
The modern American home provides an owner and an architect an opportunity to create a singular design reflecting the outward and inner directed motivations of the owner. Much as wealthy patrons commissioned concertos or portraits, Americans see their homes today in much the same way.
Paul Goldberger (he was the architectural critic for the NY Times) wrote a piece entitled Houses as Art (12MAR95 NYT Magazine) where he described three general categories of people who undertake "this mad indulgence"
- Patrons motivated by pure belief--the house is an opportunity to prove the power of architecture.
- Patrons motivated by hubris--They are trophy hunters and a home represents a chance to reinforce their place in the food chain;
- Patrons motivated by the collecting instinct--the home is another way of indulging in a passion for acquiring art.
Goldberger then mentioned a fourth kind of patron, "the accidental patron, the client who does not intentionally start out on the mission of building a serious house but who finds a talented architect, establishes a comfortable relationship with him and, in the process of fulfilling the basic needs of a house, ends up transcending them and creating a great work."
This is building as challenge. A challenge to the patron to advance a clear vision of what is to be achieved by the home. A challenge to the architect to walk that fine line between architecture as unlivable art and a connection to the world that uniquely guides the architectural vision into practicality.
For when we build, our goal is to practice an elegant efficiency and steady pace to get to the heart of the problem and build a home that has both a unique sense of place as well as to provide shelter with an emotional intensity not found anywhere else.
As for Nietzsche, my antidote to his described fruitlessness is to keep building--because whatever we have built, we are always beginning again.