Thursday 1.14.10

Sketch of First Thursday Critique

Hunting for the Soul

I went for coffee with Hao, an Associate Architect, this morning. We had a thoughtful discussion about what’s missing and what’s refreshing and where √¶sthetics start and stop and what interfaces we’re using and why. Hao wrote his thesis on spirituality in architecture. He brought up the idea of a building’s soul, something I’m thinking about too, then he mentioned the worth of a koan and the shaman’s role in Hmong Culture. Shamans retrieve souls for people who are ill. I asked Hao about his favorite spaces/buildings in Seattle or elsewhere. His answer: St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I gave him my list of Seattle favorites and tried to determine what it was about them that affected me so and what they had in common. Each have as a main component a shared ritual of procession.

My List of Favorites Places & Spaces in Seattle

St. Mark’s during a Compline Service
Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University
Panama Hotel in the International District
International Fountain at Seattle Center
McCaw Hall (Seattle Opera) when the gates are blue
Labyrinth at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lower Queen Anne
Bhy Kracke Park in Lower Queen Anne
Fremont Peak Park in Fremont
Floating Village/Studios at 764 Summit Ave E. on Capitol Hill
Residence on Palatine Ave N in Fremont (b/w N 43 & N 42)
Residence at 612 NW 41st St. in Ballard
Small fountain at corner of W Galer & Queen Anne Ave

Hao and I struggled to understand what made a structure/space honest? Is honesty tied to purpose and meaning or is it tied to place and function? I wonder, would what we consider freedom be, to another species, fickle or false? The barn swallow or fire ant larva make the nest they do out of the materials and need at hand. We are free of all that. How free? Is this freedom at odds with truth?

Hmong Culture

In Hmong Culture each person is thought to have several souls. The main soul is reincarnated after death while another soul returns to the home of the ancestors. Another soul stays near the grave of the deceased. The souls of the living can fall into disharmony and may even leave the body. The loss of a soul or souls can cause serious illness. A soul calling ceremony can be performed by elders within the community to entice the soul home with chanting and offerings of food. [Wikiepedia] I imagine a corporate soul hunting ceremony. I imagine a corporate soul calling ceremony. I imagine a corporate soul healing ceremony. None of them look like a company picnic or retreat. They look more like a long walk backwards through the building, from the basement to the roof deck, into ever corner, with every worker present and moving in a line. Where is the soul of NBBJ? How many are there? One? Three? 350? I've been asking, "Where does the soul of NBBJ reside?" I've gotten some interesting answers, but not a one has mentioned a physical location.

The Poetry Columns

NBBJ has a lot of built-in collaborative spaces where it's hoped employees from various departments will meet, interact and cross-fertilize. I don’t often see people sitting on the Great Steps or in the comfortable chairs in the waistline windows. Chance conversations do, however, happen with frequency in the coffee/tea bars, in the lunchroom and on the second floor landing.

Poetry Columns as Collaborative Space

They draw people in.
They provide a shift in thinking.
They allow the viewer mental pause.
They provoke immediate response.
They provoke aftershock comments.
They linger creating spatial and textural relationships.

The comments and stories people shared with me afterwards weren't about architecture or about the function of a column, but about their vivid past experiences. The columns provided a spark to rekindle a moment long past when something similarly disruptive arched over their world and made things possible--that time I was on vacation, that time I was stuck in the airport, that time in which I was similarly energized and open and receiving.

Rowing to Work

I call them puffers, but they’re coots. I saw one this morning. Hullo. And up popped a cormorant's head, like a periscope, slicing the water. The usual gulls and crows and the rhythm returning.

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