The Timeless Way of Building

I've been a fool. I should have done this years ago. Like, before I applied to architecture school. And before I presumed that I could enter into the soul of another human being and design for them the space in which they shall live.

I had the best intentions. I think we all do. But learn from my mistake. Read The Timeless Way of Building now.

If I had to make another presumptuous statement, it would be this: The Timeless Way of Building is the most important book on architecture you will ever read. And, after you read it, most architecture books just won't...they just won't matter anymore.

In my defense, I'd like to say that I had my suspicions long before this point. Like early on in my second semester at Harvard when I skipped out of one of my bullshit learn-nothing classes to sneak into the library and get Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture, and, out of some misplaced, but short-lived, fidelity to ideals regarding class attendance, returned to class, sat in the back, and read. Alicia, coming in late, saw me and asked, "You just don't care, do you?"

I shook my head. After that, I stopped attending class. Now, I don't want to sound religious or anything, but I had just begun to see the light. This is a nice way of saying that I was entering into the most difficult time of my life but didn't know it yet.

Should I call it post-traumatic stress disorder if I can't even think about Harvard without feeling physically ill?

(Should I call it Stockholm Syndrome that I still wear my Harvard sweatshirt?)

For pretty much ever since the dawn of time up until relatively recently, people designed buildings by making marks on the ground.

That's what I want you to think about the next time you're going bleary-eyed staring at autoCAD and you realize that it's almost 4 in the morning.

What I learned from The Timeless Way of Building is: the architectural profession alienates people from what it is they really need in a space. I won't necessarily blame the architects; they're trying to be helpful, and they are indentured to their student loan companies. People themselves, overwhelmed by images in shiny magazines, overwhelmed by peppy design shows, overwhelmed by neighborly one-upmanship, overwhelmed by "resale value," overwhelmed by societal expectations, are already alienated from what they really need in a space. Sometimes they can barely articulate it. Those who can afford to do so may bring in an architect to help. And maybe sometimes it does? And maybe sometimes it doesn't.

In architecture school, I remember quite clearly, we were held to a strange mandate when beginning a new design. We had to make some sort of "diagram," and the diagram would somehow spawn some sort of logic, and with this logic we were to design. The basis of either the diagram or the logic could be quite arbitrary. It could be utterly meaningless or stupid. But, once decdied upon, it behooved us to remain faithful to this system of logic; indeed, any slip up, or deviation into something outside of this order, and our critics would invariably tell us that we were not being rigorous enough.

This is still true, in the timeless way of building. You still need to start with something. But, instead of inventing a bullshit logic each time you begin to design, you instead learn a language of patterns. This is just like learning to speak. When you were a baby, you had needs and desires but not reliable way of communicating these needs and desires to others outside of crying. Once you learned your first language, you were able to communicate. It is the same with knowing what kinds of spaces you need for the shape of your life.

Once you learned English (or whatever), you didn't have to think about it very much. You just spoke. The words came easily. And the same goes for the pattern language. Once you know it, you don't have to think about it too hard. You just know it. You can speak it with the lines you draw, directly in the dirt.


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