New York has given me so many new things to think about. Without going there, I would not have gotten a better understanding of what I want in life. I also would not have been exposed to the fame and fortune forces that run the city, and therefore the whole world. I got to meet some famous clients, I got to work at a famous startup, and most, most importantly I found my next direction. And there are so many ideas going through my head right now, I want some time to sort it out. I'm just beginning to now entertain the idea of inventing my own job, and not only finding one. I think that in the long run, it will benefit me no matter what.
They say you become what you think. And I think the honest truth is, I haven't been thinking a lot about art and design in a while....
I must have written about the same topic once a month, for the past 3 years now - how architecture has become a lens through which I see the world. Funny thing is, it's always changing. Nowadays I really do think less about it as a profession and more of a viewpoint - just like lawyers may understand the world as a series of grey shades (and truth is subjective to an argument), or perhaps an engineer, where the world is run by rational mechanisms (like physics and chemistry) but is unfortunately operated by irrational humans (who care about emotions and subjectivity). An architect looks as the world as being made up of interrelated and interconnected systems, many of which actually don't naturally play nice with each other, and through the medium of geometric drawings find ways to make things work in concept, in business, and in practical construction reality.
So how can I apply this type of thinking to digital space? What interrelated systems and networks, which normally don't play nice with each other, can somehow do with nice organization and just, more critical thinking?
But first---how did I get here? I think for me, it's been a process of thinking about the world through art, and then through science, and then art again. Visual art was a world I entered to understand how to translate emotions and feelings - it was a way to communicate grand and true ideas, or what we call objective "beauty". What I really loved about visual art was the way simple mediums can convey complex ideas, when done right, and through this act of translation art became a piece of creation whose sum total is greater than the scattered ideas in your head. I love how I could play with ideas, and how it was really effective in speaking about certain things that words cannot easily express. Drawing was about trying to understand something through focus. There's a lot of intelligence in that.
But visual art wasn't perfect. What I didn't like about visual art was how ---- at some point, it always just became about personal ego. It was "showing off". It couldn't transcend its own medium. What you make is what you make. And I think at some point, I think, I lost faith in it. It seemed to be still extremely subjective, and as I looked around at artists today, I couldn't really find anything I could really rally behind. Paintings don't matter, sculptures don't matter, mixed media MIGHT matter.....but to what end, other than your own? Something else felt like it may have more impact.
When I first really founded architecture, what really sparked my interest was its three-dimensionality. It was grounded in some constraints, which I didn't find in art. It felt like an extension of drawing or sculpture, but was even more spatial. I learned in school that it could even be habitable. This was a game-changer. This was art you can live in. This was art that impacted real life, at the scale of objects that I used to remember (Hong Kong Skyscrapers). And it could tell beautiful stories. All buildings have stories and histories, created from arguments and cultures and ideas. And I found this whole world of construction and design and a profession I felt it was very noble and creative. And again, it allowed me to do the one thing I've always liked, which is to explore and document ideas.
But then, again, I think, I slowly started accruing things I didn't like. There was a wide disconnect between design school and design practice, which is well-documented everywhere and is a common grievance. As much as the mantra of visual art is "what you see is what you get", in architecture I found myself just producing representations of representations of representations of the real thing. I didn't have the slightest clue what the real thing is. Which at some point, doesn't feel honest (and far from the craft itself). And then, as much as architecture was a "bad business", I started to realize it was still actually mostly about business. As a real practical profession, there was no real time to explore and document ideas, and most of time there is no clear value provided for this form of exploration. Architects are firstly project managers, building scientists, draftspersons and problem solvers, not necessarily designers. Often times today, the client has already thought through 60% of the decision-making of what the project is, and the type of thinking about why and what are mostly delegated to management consultants, developers, and analysts. We are meant to find innovations purely in the building realm, stick to our circle of influence, and to dress things up nicely.
This is where entrepreneurship and computation steps in. Everywhere I have worked, I have always been more interested in the client prompt than on the building itself. The prompt, especially unclear and irrational ones, excite me. The prompt was always closer to understand the why of the building, rather than the what. I always wanted to know the underlying motivations, because it is always more than just making a return. Good clients and good projects always have a driving force behind their buildings. It may be a trend they see, or a dream they have. And these underlying questions were always the most exciting to me, and finding those questions always leads to better buildings, and therefore better neighborhoods and cities. And I will just never, ever understand why answering those questions is way above my pay scale, or even not my profession's responsibility to begin with. And that was always slowly killing me. It was like I can see through a small pinhole, through architecture, to a larger world of WHY. The WHY of suburbanization. The WHY of Amazon warehouses. The WHY of shopping malls and boutique cities. But I am locked out of this world of the WHY because I am not qualified enough, and I don't know enough about finance, or CS, or business. And so I should play with my drawings and models instead.
And I just want to say NO. I believe I am smarter than that, and I believe I can intuit trends and forces through design and architecture. Some people tell me it's messy, and I should stick in my lanes. That I won't understand the motivations of other industries, because I may find corruption, cruelty, and villainy. To them, I say isn't architecture just enabling bad actors and bad behavior, then? If so, then I think I would like to participate in the WHY decisions as well, and stop being ignorant and willfully blind.
In equal measure, computational design and automation offers a way to take back control from a messy reality, and to then focus more on asking and understanding the WHY. So I can no longer be ignorant about those systems either.
So I have come full circle, only to start with art and end with science.
(What you ignore before will always come back later.)