The times when I feel most present, is not when I'm doing work. Nor when I am "partying", or on vacation.
Those things, in the grand scheme, don't really much contribute to my core "memories" or "knowledge".
The times I feel most present is in all of those in-between moments, when I am passing through a space, a city, a place. When your mind wanders a site and a landscape. When you are all at once disconnected from everything else, but feeling the joy of being present in a scene -- the scene of "life". And everything feels real.
This is riding the tram in Hong Kong, or strolling through the wide avenues of the Chicago Loop, or resting under a leafy Boston park. This is the grand "commute", in a world before Covid, where you shuffle from place-to-place, when you feel "connected" to the city, going to-and-fro. This is the urban experience.
This is the breathtaking wideness of a Tennessee lake, or the majestic White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the infinite length of the Hudson River when you look North from Manhattan. This is the panoramic rolling hills of Ithaca, looking from the top of Libe Slope, where possibilities and potential feel endless in your early 20's. This is the majestic landscape.
These are the pure interactions with space and society, which happen, not when you singularly focus on them, but in moments of passing, which builds one after another, in a daily cycle of passing time, in changing light, with people close to you and apart.
When Covid hit, and the world entered lockdown --- I felt like I lost all of this. And space, my once and forever refuge, was wrapped and warped by fear. So I explored virtual space -- hence all of my previous posts about software engineering...
But my first love will always be this experience of spatial atmosphere -- this idea of distilling it to its very essence, of noticing all those little details, of observing the environment and then finding ways to manifest it again with drawing and buildings and apps.
I used to think that my architectural obsession came from the shock of transitioning from a dense city to living in the suburbs. That was definitely a huge influence, but it goes back to something deeper. It was just about noticing the details.
To me architecture, was never really about creating something "new" from my own head. No, I am not that smart and creative to do that. Architecture was always about extracting from the site, from the time, and reflecting those essences back into the project. It is really all about observing a site, a program, or a phenomenon closely, and then really refining those insights into tangible forms, thoughtfully and with as much grace as possible.
It is not about the materials, although it is important.
It is not about the data, although that helps.
It is not about the visual spectacle, b/c that is only fashion.
It is not about composition, b/c that is all about personal taste and limiting.
It is how it relates to what is already there, and how it feels as an idea.
And then, how you execute it.
Where architecture loses me is when you can sense that it wasn't crafted well, or that it imposes itself to you. That it reads only at a certain level of resolution, rather than "lossless". That it doesn't know what it wants to be and tries to be everything at once. When you can sense that during the early design stages, the designers themselves couldn't really imagine or reconcile it in reality, but they built it anyways, because "who cares".
Where software loses me is when it has too many opinions -- when it lets you know "I know best, you are wrong", and at some level it disregards the user reality. When it forgets what is important, and prioritizes a series of minor details instead of the big picture. It is a tool to organize information, clearly and effectively. Period.
Embrace the reality of the situation, place, and prompt, and the design will take care of itself.