Midweek Musings: The Beauty of the In-Between

Design is a tricky thing. It has a tendency to be all consuming. As an architectural designer, I spend at least forty hours a week puzzling. Somewhere in that in-between is beauty.

Shadowtecture.

Right now as I find myself smack dab in the middle of a approaching deadline, while trying to balance completing the A.R.E., planning a wedding, settling into a new house, and maintaining some semblance of sanity, it is easy to miss that magic. The stair details that I spent four full days on do not feel beautiful. They feel overwhelming and brain frying.

But in all that time spent figuring out how things can come together, relationships are established and pieces are placed. At some point, those endless hours in the computer screen turn real at an astounding scale. And if you did your job right, it is beautiful.

Even incomplete, you know this is going to be a great moment.

I think that often people forget how much of architecture is iterative. You may never guess from the completed project that you live in or walk by, but hours were spent on countless iterations of facades, layouts, connections, detailing and even patterning. The finish product sited in front of you, may be technically ‘complete’ by contractor standards, but rarely ever the architect’s. There are always more solutions to be found as one spends time refining design. (Some of those solutions even happen on the construction site).

These panels took weeks. WEEKS. Iteration at it’s finest.

The phases of design always remind me of a roller-coaster. You start out with anticipation and easy gains. You make progress and ascend the hill. At some point, something doesn’t work (or a lot of things). You descend. Fast. You rise and fall as you progress towards completion. The problems get to a smaller scale, but are hills none the less and come rapidly. Years later, you have a building and hopefully it is one worth that time investment. On occasions, you don’t even get that.

But sometimes you do and it is beautiful. 

So for when in a few hours from this exact moment, I tell myself that it is time to just throw in the towel, I want to remember this.  I want to remember staring at what is to be, and thinking it’s awesome. This now almost complete project (which you are seeing pictures of) also had a moment when nothing seemed to click and I was ready to start over. This roller coaster made it’s way out of countless bends and descents to arrive at something glorious.

It’s still making it there.

I can’t speak for all of design. Product designers might feel this same sense of pride and contentment when staring at their well-done object. I imagine they would or at least I hope it to be so. But, a part of me is overjoyed to know that this object making me content is inhabitable. It will be spaces and areas that people will live and work and breathe in. It might shape lives. Not the architecture, mind you, but the building.

Who will meet at some point on these stairs?

At these moments especially, I like to believe good design is camouflaged. Actively there, but not often noticed if it is working correctly.  Traveling with Chris has taught me that most people do not notice many of the things that secretly irk me to my core. (Cruise ships, why are your nosings raised? Are you trying to make the elderly fall down the stairs? You are succeeding at making me fall down the stairs, mind you.)

Unfortunately, because of camouflaging, I spend a lot of time on things that a good majority of people might never actively notice. I accept this. It is a part of life for sure. I do know that the people using the stairs I have spent days on, will probably not dwell on their construction for more than a minute unless they are awful. But for those lucky few that do, damn, there are good moments.

You’ll notice this clerestory. Promise.

So I ask you dear reader to take a hard look at your surroundings. Make an architect happy today and be someone who notices. There is a whole world of beauty waiting to be acknowledged. 

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