Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Choose Change

This week the economy seemed to be weighing heavily on the minds of many Americans. With the President’s State of the Union Address, many of us are hoping that this year the economy will turn itself around. We have been holding our breaths, making decisions with caution rather than frivolity, and cutting back wherever possible. This has dramatically affected the construction industry. In terms of the residential market, homeowners are choosing to not sell their homes since their values have plummeted. New home construction has been painfully stalled or halted. So instead of starting from scratch, homeowners are choosing to wisely and cautiously remodel.

Remodeling can be big or small. But regardless of the size of the project, its purpose is to transform, to create a dramatic change. For some, there is a level of anxiety associated with change. We get comfortable with things as they are, and there is a sense of security with the familiar. Change can make us feel insecure and uncomfortable. But change, remodeling, and transformation are critically important…and here’s why.

Over time, we stop paying attention. We stop really “seeing” that which has become too familiar to us. After a while, we just stop noticing. Our minds tend to become desensitized, and we only selectively pay attention. So if the arrangement of your furniture has been the same for years, chances are you just don’t “see" it anymore. Architecture continuously shows me that making the smallest change, can make the biggest difference.

So, rather than resisting change, give it a try, and you will see what I mean. For example, try re-arranging the furniture you do have, or put new throw pillows on your couch or bed, or replace the family pictures that have been in the frames for just about forever. And watch your mind take notice. There is something exciting about “reawakening” your attention. And the minute we engage our minds to take notice, to become aware of our surroundings, we find ourselves present in the moment. That is the true benefit or gift of remodeling one’s surroundings. It gives us the renewed chance to be in the moment. So, rather than walking by the all too familiar pictures, the new images will draw your eyes to them, capture your attention, invigorate your memory, and stimulate your awareness. Instead of just blindly sitting on the couch at the end of the day, the newly arranged furniture in your living room will cause you to see things from a new vantage point. Perhaps this new spot has unusual lighting, or a different view towards the yard or the other rooms in the house. Just by the rearrangement of the furniture you do have, there will be a pull to go sit there, to experience what it feels or looks like. And just that simple act, will pull you to be present.

So, even in this year of economic struggle, we need to remember the importance of transformation. In fact, when times are tough, there is even more stress in our lives, and that causes our minds to go numb, and our attention to distractedly wander.

As Benjamin Franklin said in this quote that I love:
“When you're finished changing, you're finished!”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Building SOUL

Let’s talk about “soul”… what is our soul? Is it our deepest innermost being? Is it that part which connects us to our spirit? A higher being? God?

The notion of a “soul” is so esoteric.

SOUL: we strive to fill it, be true to it, connect with it and to those of others. To understand something cognitively is one thing, but to understand it with our soul means to understand it on such a deeper level. Perhaps our soul is what gives us dimension and depth. That’s what allows us to feel more deeply, and understand on an intrinsic, spiritual level. The soul doesn’t just “see,” but rather it “feels.” It recognizes beauty, sensitivity, passion, understanding, and inspiration.

I like to think of architecture as buildings that embody a soul.

How does a building have a soul? When a building “speaks to you,” when walking through it, you are not just seeing with your eyes. You feel engaged and know that you are “experiencing” the space…that is when you are in the presence of a building with spirit and soul. It is that soul that breathes life into the building, creating an unforgettable space that unfolds to you.If you’ve ever visited Gaudi’s work in Spain, or Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in San Diego, you know the feeling that literally takes your breath away as you stand in awe of the space. The quiet power of beautiful and timeless architecture can be spectacular and mesmerizing. In that moment, its soul speaks to ours, and there is recognition and understanding.

A soulful building will be captivating no matter how often we return to experience it. But it is not just historic European buildings that embody spirit. It can be the smallest most insignificant space that can stir our soul. So take note of the spaces that you are in, those that you visit, and those that you occupy. Does it capture light in a rich way? Does it resist confinement, and feel as if it breathes? Is nature woven into the space to remind us of the natural environment? What building or place evokes feeling in you? What space stirs your soul?
Because it is so esoteric, because it is so intuitive, a building’s soul is best understood in images rather than words…

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Hearth

Frank Lloyd Wright was often quoted as saying, “The hearth is the psychological center of the home.”

The last few weeks it really felt like winter. There was finally this year, a true cold front in California. So, I do what I always do each winter day. As I finished work, I poured my glass of wine and lit my fireplace. To me, that is the most relaxing and rewarding moment on a cold day. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes I could smell gas…not good. I had to turn the fireplace off and turn the tv on instead. Absolutely not as relaxing or rewarding.
So today, I called the gas company to come and see if there was a leak. I knew that something wasn’t quite right. And sure enough, being the fireplace aficionado that I’ve become, there was a leak in the valve at the wall. The gas man’s detector lit up like a Christmas tree!

Thankfully he was able to fix the problem. So now here I sit with the fireplace lit, and of course the delicious glass of red wine to accompany it. And it struck me, how utterly transformed this space became. The fire brought with it a glow and stillness to my living room. The fire changed the ambiance and light in the space instantly. The mood was altered the moment the flame ignited.
That is the tremendous power of a hearth. It has the ability to transform a house into a home. Its intensity brings heat and energy instantly, as it transforms our emotions, making us feel warm, passionate, comfortable (even cozy) and enraptured in its glow.

It is no wonder that Frank Lloyd Wright thought the hearth was truly the home’s psychological center. It is difficult to sit near a fire and not feel affected by it. So tonight, light the fireplace and see how it transforms your home, your evening, and even your psyche.

Here is a simple idea for making your fireplace even more spectacular:
If your gas fireplace feels smoky, dark, and dirty with soot, you can easily transform into a dazzling architectural feature. It’s an inexpensive and dramatic “fireplace face lift”. Here’s my simple suggestion: Remove the iron crate and the log set that are probably in there right now. Also, say farewell to the old lava rocks that are probably strewn across the base. Mike Brady would have loved it, but time for a change!

Measure the overall size of your fireplace (length and width) giving you the overall square footage of the fireplace floor. With that information, visit your local fireplace store and with their recommendation on quantity, buy the following:

1.Sand to cover the fireplace floor. It will go directly on top of the fire gas ring (which is usually what feeds the gas to the fireplace and was originally obscured under lava rocks). This is a fine type of sand, so please don’t substitute beach sand!

2.Glass crystals. You will find that there are so many beautiful colors to choose from. I suggest choosing one color rather than a multitude. Choose a color that accents or complements your living or family room well. The salesperson will help you determine how many bags you will need based on the fireplace dimensions you took. And then, buy one bag of the same color crystals, but the mirrored type for some added iridescence.

When you get home, first place the sand on the fireplace floor. It will cover the gas ring. Then place the glass crystals directly on the sand. Make sure to cover all the sand. Then sprinkle the mirrored crystals on top for that extra sparkle.
To light it simply turn your gas key (just a little, please don't go crazy or you may just singe your eyebrows off...Use a fireplace lighter and spark it just hovering over the crystals until it lights.)
That’s it…fire it up! Enjoy your evening, and share with me the photos of the transformation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Here and Now

Zen and Architecture….Being Here and Now:
There is an undeniable acceleration in American culture. A “need for speed.” We are continuously trying to get somewhere, either literally or theoretically. We want to squeeze in a workout at the gym before we get home, or before work…and the quicker and more efficient the workout, the better. Now there is even the new vibrating machine, and you stand on the plate and within 15 minutes your muscles are toned. We want to rush through the drive-thru between kids’ soccer games, because we don’t really have to time to sit and have lunch, or dinner for that matter. And theoretically, we are trying to get somewhere better, a better job, better home, better car…..
It is more and more difficult to just stop….to just sit in the moment…So instead of being present, we are either in the past, regretting our past decisions….or we are in the future, thinking or worrying about what’s next. Experiencing the moment evades us.
It gets more and more difficult to pause. And architecture needs to help us achieve this. It needs to offer us, to invite us, to be present. When you walk into a room, and are confronted by a beautiful view perfectly framed from that spot, this is a moment to pause. That is the architecture’s invitation for your presence in the moment. And truly timeless architecture repeatedly invites us to experience it. No matter how many times we visit…we feel its magnetic pull for our attention.
Zen is the practice of being in the moment, present and of one mind. Quieting the mind’s distracted nature is at the core of Zen. In architecture, it offers us simplicity, tranquility, stillness and cohesion.