Have you ever tried to get away from yourself?
I’m not talking about having a break from work, going on holiday, change-is-as-good-as-a-rest kind of thing, but really tried to get away from your self. If the answer is yes, I suspect you may have concluded, like me, that it is ultimately an exercise in abject counterproductive futility.
In other words it isn’t possible. Developing coping strategies and distractions is the only alternative. The only other thing I have tried, but never managed, to get away from is architecture.
Day one, lecture one at the Welsh School of Architecture, Simon Unwin, author of Analysing Architecture declared: “Studying architecture will change the way you see the world.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever,” was, I seem to remember, the general consensus at the time among a group of disenfranchised youths fresh out of school whose understanding of seeing the world differently was associated more with what it looked like at the end of a big night at the students’ union, than any profound revelations about the built environment.
It was years later that the sentiments expressed in that very first lecture began to hit home. It suddenly occurred to me, following one particularly spectacular falling-out with the profession, that one can never escape architecture.
This may at first seem ridiculous; you can run off into the Alaskan wilderness or the Australian outback — no architecture out there surely. Or is there? The fundamental attributes as they were taught to me and to which I still adhere, including identification of place, shelter, hearth etc, cannot be ignored if one wishes to survive.
From that perspective, humans can no more easily escape from the necessity of architecture than a bird can escape from the necessity of a nest. Many will disagree with this definition and put forward all kinds of counterclaims about culture, civilization and the key components of built form that separate architecture from other animals’ subconscious place-making.
This may well be true, but goes little way to assuaging my frustration when establishing camp in a nook in the rocks protected from the prevailing winds next to a fresh water supply, that there I am again, essentially making fundamental design decisions or experiencing, as Dr Unwin would have it, “an architectural event”.
Back in the city and on a rather less abstract level, any increased richness of experience generated by continual subconscious analysis and appreciation of the urban environment is countered by the additional level of danger resulting from continual distraction.
On more than one occasion while cycling around London, I have found myself struggling to see, for example, a frameless glazing detail on a partially obscured building under construction as I career along the Euston Road, barely registering that the thing blocking my view is a 42 tonne flatbed bearing down on me.
The same goes for driving, crossing roads, catching buses… It’s a wonder the BD obituary pages aren’t overflowing ever week with bizarre and inexplicable instances of apparently careless fatalities among the architectural fraternity. As I said once before: construction is a perilous business.