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The Architects Who Finish Other Things

There are going to be quite a few architects I’ll be interviewing for Creative Finishes project, and I already know that the most interesting of them will not being doing what architects seemingly are supposed to do. They’re using a specialized set of talents in more general ways, not building buildings but interacting with the built environment and anything else that require their design skill set. So many architects are smarter than they realize, and especially smarter than what the educational institutions and professional organizations know. Architects can do other things. I just wish those directing and creating the occupation of Architecture knew that or even admitted that.

Back in 2010, I met Maia Small, who is both architect and educator. She had recently launched a Tumblr site (now gone, apparently) of Architects of Other Things. It was a marvelous list of all these people who got an architectural education and then went on to do other things. The training for architecture is incredibly applicable to the broader world but the world of architects seems to be getting smaller and smaller, app by app eating away at what used to be their realm.

This was a big issue for me while on the AIA board. They were obsessing over the parts of the occupation that will inevitably be automated and almost ignoring those talents that cannot be automated. While on the board, they increased the number of HSW (Health, Safety, Welfare) credits necessary to maintain licensure. I have no issue with an architect’s skill in measurable things being at sufficient competence. Like most people, I want buildings to stay standing up. I just don’t care about buildings that stay standing but are boring. I wanted less HSW, more poetry. I wanted Architects to be more interesting, and thereby their buildings be more interesting. Someday, machines will be more than capable of making boxes (machines for living, as the arrogant phrasing went) but I’m thinking they’ll be less capable of making beautiful buildings. No one is going to love boxes made by machines – and as I heard Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, “The most sustainable building is a building that is loved.”

Finish with 40 Enemies

A special effects friend and I have had many conversations about Creatives and the creative process, but upon shifting the conversation to the idea of how Creatives finish, this comment stood out as an effect of successfully finishing: “You create 40 enemies.” In a reasonably tight knit community, your success pointed out to those forty people their failure to complete. It became a mirror that said every time they looked: “You didn’t finish it.” The big caution here is that so many people talk about their creative projects, to the point where that’s the most creative part of it. The story becomes the impediment because it becomes so perfect that no rational person could fulfill it.

Like the crabs in the bucket notion, do you sometimes stay back with friends, preferring to talk about the things you say you’re going to do rather than face the real loneliness that’s often necessary in both the production phase as well as in the after effects? It’s been said that “Success leaves clues” and I suppose that it’s also true that “Success loses friends.”

Like many of the Creatives I’ve been talking with, he also used deadlines – and in a specific case, he did it by announcing it to the Internet. He posted what they were about to release and made the rest of the team mad, because all of their reputations were now on the line. By external expectations, they had to get it done or the pain was going to be big.

So much of creative work is not finished as much as abandoned. Yet, it’s emerged from the conversation that there’s an awful lot of projects that aren’t so much abandoned as they are set aside. If kept, they serve as signposts, inspirations and sometimes a parts supply for subsequent projects.

Finally, he said that successful creation involves a bit of self-talk: ”You belong here.” He’s doing cool stuff and sometimes he finds a fair amount of intimidation because of the people who are also in the room. Like most of us, he can recall the line from the Radiohead song Creep: “What the hell am I doing here?” His self-talk is that he does belong here. He thinks back to his various and wide successes – and he has to recall those in the context of sitting in that room.

I’ve found that many creatives have a bit of a self-esteem problem, but really I think that’s a misnomer. Because of the successes that many of these people have, the issue isn’t low self-esteem, it’s humility – and that’s should never be a problem in it’s proper context. As G. K. Chesterton has offered, people wrongly doubt their plans when in fact they should doubt themselves. When there’s no self-doubt, there’s often madness. The purpose of humility is to know your place in the universe. Your place in the universe is to use your talents to create things. When you combine ambition with a measure of humility you can create great things – and that’s a bit of heaven.



Catalyst Federal Credit Union Interview

In one of my few remaining talks before retiring the Futurist notion, I’ll speaking in Dallas in two weeks to an audience of Credit Union executives. There’s an interview with me here.

The Sensual Side Of Paper

This article from NPR: In the Age of Screen Time, Is Paper Dead?  explores why not only is paper a good thing, but that screen time is an over-rated thing. And here’s the importance of the sensual side of paper or any other material: We have too often reduced design down to a single digit, down to the very tip of the index finger to click, click, click our way from idea to design and then product. Time and again, I have been impressed with designers who are not stuck behind a desk but actually have a relationship, as it were, with the materials. They know their materials, from fabric to bricks – and are not afraid of them. I’m convinced that the future of design, well, let’s even extend that to the future of everything, will be saved by people not afraid to get dirt under their nails.

The use of the computer has broken the sensual and tactile connection between imagination and the object of design. Juhani Pallasmaa, The Thinking Hand

Architect Christian Sottile, former Dean of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art & Design introduced me to a marvel of a book: The Thinking Hand by Juhani Pallasmaa. It’s an exploration of how the hand knows things. Your knowledge is not just neatly tucked up inside of the brain, and your brain is a lot more distributed than you think. Pallasmaa believes that imagination requires getting connected to the materials.

A desk is a dangerous place from which to observe the world. John LeCarre

Choices in Language and Life

Who wants transparency when you can have magic? Who wants prose when you can have poetry?

The Duke of Windsor in Episode 5 of The Crown

Medieval Manuscripts and the Creation of Books

Marshall McLuhan said (approximately – I can’t find the original quotation)

When an old technology is replaced by a new technology, the old one doesn’t go away, it comes back in the form of an art.

Sometimes, the old technology starts out as an art too. An article about the creation of Medieval Manuscripts.

Growing Up Almost Creative

I’ve always been fascinated by Creatives. When I was seven, my dad hired architect Edmund Howe, who had been a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The home Howe designed for Mom and Dad was just outside of Monroe, WI and was a bit prairie-style, with a lot of lannon stone and beautiful. Dad took me to some of the meetings where he and the Architect worked over the plans.

I have never wanted to be an Architect, but I have always been fascinated with how they can take conversations and turn them into a home.

Dad was always fascinated with the creative process. He grew up poor but learned from his Mom that he didn’t have to stay that way. He was a paperboy and by the time he was 12 years old, he had taken over all of the paper routes in his town hiring other boys to deliver. He learned from his mother the foundations of the creative process – that is, entrepreneurism. The act of undertaking something to create something that didn’t exist before. Maybe not creativity as seen by some, but they don’t know how to look.

While my four brothers and I were growing up, he needed something to distract us, so he put us to work. In the late 1950s, he created Medical Jewelry Company, carving into clear squares of lucite such things as broken bones, GI tracts, tumors, and even his best selling item, two sperm chasing an egg. He called this one Fertile Mrytle. That was also his mother-in-law’s name, but that was probably just a coincidence.

With a flair for publicity, it got dubbed “the World’s Sickest Looking Jewelry” and that got him into Time, Newsweek and even Escapade – a competitor to Playboy. So in amongst the nudes and the sexy stories, was a story about my Dad and his sick-looking creative efforts. Why yes, Mom was quite proud, thanks for asking.  #adamsfamily

Because Monroe is the Swiss Cheese Capital of the United States, Dad also created Swiss Cheese Jewelry. Small wedges and squares of yellow plexiglass that we’d use a dentist drill to make look like cheese. We sold these at Cheese Days and other local festival and at cheese stores which were quite the road side feature of the 1960s in Wisconsin.

During the 1960s, he was making over $10,000 a year selling jewelry, in addition to being a full time Radiologist. That money was used to pay for our college educations and our pay at the time was minimal but often with the message of saving for the long term. A big goal was to teach his kids discipline, a certain measure of creativity – and very importantly, that the creativity didn’t have to high creativity. What he did have a good measure of creativity with was organizing the creativity of others. I never quite learned creativity from my father, but I very much learned to appreciate it in others.

Retiring the Title: Futurist

Effective August 15, 2017, I no longer answer to the title Futurist. I’m not retiring, I’m retiring my title of Futurist. It was getting a bit irrelevant. Maybe the future’s finally caught up with us. Oddly, so many seem unhappy with that.

No one with choices retires really. When they do have choices, they get to choose how to spend their time, attention and money. Some are better at it than others.

Instead of just being a Futurist, I’m going to get better at exploring ideas. That doesn’t really need a title, it needs pen and paper, it needs this iPad, it needs a list of friends and acquaintances to interview and it needs a seemingly endless book budget. Fortunately, I planned ahead. It’s an occupational habit, er, it used to be anyway.