I am an architect. My wife is a dancer. Interesting. Combine a spatial mind with a body moving in space and the result is dynamic. Explore the artistry. Explore the choreography. Explore the architecture. Explore what inspires one common architect and the creative synergy resulting from a life lived with a dancer.
My father knew I was going to be an architect. Well, a builder of some description. What tipped him off were the hours I spent as a four year boy piecing together those sharp edged mini blocks, we all know as Lego, into miraculously high constructs from another world. It was my playground. No rules. No building codes. No laws of physics to hinder my imagination. It was just me and possibility. Unfortunately, the realities of my adult career as an architect are not free of such limitations.
The doorway of discovery.
Having three children of my own now I am beginning to see the same imaginative instincts in my kids as my dad saw in me. It struck me the other day when I walked in the front door directly into yet another quasi-construction site in the middle of our living room floor - it was a fully developed shelter. The over-turned chair, upright end table and foot stool together formed the basis of the structural design while pillows, a leather jacket and various blankets served as the building's envelope to protect the inside from "the elements" - mommy, daddy, and baby. There was a corner window on one side to admit natural light and support cross ventilation as well as a child-height opening for access on the other. It was brilliant. The irony in their masterpiece was that they already had a pre-assembled castle tent to inhabit as well as a popular toy set to make forts with. It seemed that the time spent making original creations out of generic household "stuff" versus that of the pre-assembled toys was certainly disproportionate. This mangled assemblage of furniture and linens on our living room floor was a castle. It was a fort. It was a created place to interact with and experience. It was a physical result of an idea that they had. I could not help but get down on my knees, shimmy myself through the main entrance and experience whatever I could of the miniature world my two little ones had created. I peered out the window and felt a breeze on my face. I listened to the faint noise of the cars outside muffled by the walls surrounding me. Then, I laid down on my back, intently studied the intricate pattern on the fabric ceiling above me and wondered: what fosters development of the young creative mind more - imposed structure or uninhibited play? Needless to say, I was inspired.
Last week I was afforded the opportunity to step away from my daily architectural grind and attend a conference in Atlanta for three days. It was an architecture related conference covering issues of building design and the use of technology in worship facilities in the United States. Being from Canada I certainly had to adjust my mentality as various projects were presented having a scale and budget well beyond that of the local market I know. Case in point, one of the evenings I joined a tour of First Baptist Church in Woodstock just outside of Atlanta. It had an auditorium sized for 7,500 people and cost $65 million to construct. It was beautiful and awe inspiring. I walked around in amazement to think that a group of christian believers would dare to dream so large. It wasn't so much the scale of the building that impressed me most or the high impact architectural detailing - it was the fact that the people of this church had a vision of something well beyond their imagination and capabilities. They took their vision and acted with purpose. A faith that moves. That inspires me.
Interesting (and related) was the theme of "Why?" which seemed to permeate the undertone of each conference session. Why do you do what you do? What is the driving force of your every move? Is there a purpose in your actions? I had no choice but to think about what that meant for me and my work as an architect as well as the firm my partners and I oversee. Do I have a vision for what I do and what I design? I'm realizing it is imperative that I take a larger view of things each day. If I don't, I simply default into making daily choices in a haphazard manner based on a plethora of insignificant and disjointed reasons. I will either be clear and consistent or end up misunderstood. This idea of vision was exemplified in a couple sessions presented by a fellow design professional, Mel McGowan of Visioneering Studios. He presented several church projects the firm had designed throughout the United States. It was clear the projects were under-girded by a strong vision and focused direction which ultimately led to a clear architectural expression. These buildings were manifestations of ideas that carried power for the people, and more importantly, the Person within its walls - "architectural evangelism" as McGowan described it.
So think big. No, think huge. Remember your decisions are guided by something. Be intentional and move with purpose. Step away, then back. Be inspired. Believe you have been given gifts that can have great impact - on others, on what you do, on your ideas. Dream BIG. Have Vision.
First of all, let us get it over with. You know. “Dancer”. What came to your mind? Shame on you for having the visions of shiny poles and dirty men. With an honorable university education in dance and several years spent as a professor at another, my wife dances far from any pole. Jazz, ballet, tap, and hip-hop, to name a few, are disciplines of dance she has refined over many years. She has founded a dance company and recently assisted with the startup of another. She is a brilliant choreographer with the ability to take anyone, amateur or otherwise, and cause them to move in a way that is far beyond their natural abilities. She is inspired and inspires.
Me, I’m just a simple architect with one simple task - translate a set of abstract requirements into a succinct physical piece of work called a building. Unfortunately, the building must work. The building must breathe. The building must offer moments of rest, moments of motion - moments of neither. Just moments. I often observe the built world with intention and think about the spatial relationships that make up its varied forms. I cannot help but critically consider if these relationships are useful, deleterious or inconsequential to our physical and emotional well being, especially the ones we regularly interface with. Evidently, I have a relationship with the world around me. You have a relationship with the world around you. It either inspires or evokes frustration. I prefer the former. So too does my wife. This is where her and I meet.
Partial elevation of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics,
Waterloo, Ontario designed by Saucier + Perrotte architects
Architecture and dance have a relationship. Not mathematical, as my title might suggest, but social, emotional, psychological, ephemeral, and, yes, even physical. They both engage each other as well as the world impacting her in unique but equally potent ways - with art at its core. It is here I wish to explore and give evidence of the inspiring aspects we each have found in the other’s vocation as well as reveal the interesting congruencies that lie beneath the surface. I further wish to share that which captivates and motivates the architect living inside of me. My hope is that as you read through these posts you will learn something interesting about architecture or dance, you will be moved to think outside of your own proverbial box and you will engage the world around you in a way you never have before. Enjoy.