Posts Tagged ‘vision’

Honor the Brick

Ancient brick arch in Petra, JordanIs it permissible to treat people poorly in the name of artistic vision? Most of us would offer a resounding “No,” because we hold human relationship as our preeminent value. For the late architect Louis I. Kahn, as for many artists, musicians, and performers, the question was more complicated.

In the graceful and provocative 2003 documentary, My Architect, produced by Kahn’s son, Nathaniel Kahn, we discover an aesthetic innovator destined to live with the human collateral damage that results when the vision comes first.

Historians call Kahn one of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century, noting that he inspired successive generations of designers with his “uncompromising pursuit of formal perfection and emotional expression.” In the film, we get a taste of that singular focus: “To express is a drive. When you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And that is where design comes in. If you think of Brick, for instance, and you say to Brick, ‘What do you want, Brick?’ And Brick says, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to Brick, ‘Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you; what do you think of that, Brick?’ Brick says, ‘I like an arch.’ It’s important that you honor the material you use. You don’t say…‘We have a lot of material around; we can do it one way, we can do it another.’ That’s not true. You can only do it if you honor the brick and glorify the brick instead of just shortchanging it.”

Honoring the brick of his own nature could be seen as the central theme of Kahn’s life. Small and physically awkward with an odd voice and extensive facial burn scars sustained as a toddler, Kahn was as true to surface imperfection as he was to purity of form.

And though his enduring masterworks reflect an evolved artistic—or even spiritual—consciousness, his behavioral imperfections also left their mark. He fathered children with three women while maintaining relationships with all of them, he drove employees to the brink of collapse with his excessive demands, and he alienated potential clients with his rigidity.

Yet, some of those lovers, employees, and clients still weep with affection and admiration as they recall their time with Kahn. Shamsul Wares, who worked with the architect on his signature Bangladeshi capital building, suggests that far from being a misanthrope, Kahn’s aesthetic was deeply humanist. “He loved everybody,” says Wares. “To love everybody he sometimes did not see the very closest ones. And that is inevitable for men of his stature.”

I’m not sure I agree with that as a general rule. But I do see the wisdom of reserving judgment and giving each individual the space to know and live his or her own purpose. The most touching thing about this film is the courage with which Nathaniel Kahn approaches his father’s life story. Neither grinding an ax as victim, nor polishing his credentials as celebrity son, he creates an unflinching portrait that comes from a place of genuine curiosity about this architect of his. In the process, he teaches us something about being human and about the importance of recognizing the values that drive our choices.

Nowhere to Put It

February 2, 2011 3 comments

Light through snowy branchesGreg Heavener, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, might have been speaking for all of us when he reported a couple of days ago, “There’s nowhere to put it.”

He was talking about the snow, of course, but he may as well have been referring to the sense of beleaguered exhaustion that this relentless winter is visiting upon us here in the Northeast and elsewhere across the country.

Now, I know, I’m the one who’s always cheering us on to adopt new perspectives when circumstances have us feeling defeated. And I stand by that! But part of exploring new perspectives is getting perfectly clear about the one you’re in.

Robert Fritz, an important voice in the realm of personal growth, identified the creative potential inherent in the “structural tension” between what we have (our current reality) and what we want (our vision). His formula calls for a frank assessment of the now. And sometimes, let’s face it, a frank assessment makes us want to scream or cry.

I think of John McEnroe exploding into a fit of rage on the court after a line judge didn’t see it his way: “You CANNOT be serious!” He probably reaches his breaking point quicker than most, but it’s a sentiment we can relate to as we absorb one more layoff, one more foreclosure, one more rejection letter, or 21 more inches of snow.

So, yes, I’m all about getting from here to the vision. But I also know that tears and tantrums are built into the system for a reason. Don’t be afraid to let them do their work. They help you know when you’ve reached your limit. When “there’s nowhere to put it,” there’s nowhere to go but up.