“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
Horace quotes (Ancient Roman Poet. 65 BC-8 BC)
In the world of architecture, creativity must strive to maintain its design integrity despite regulations, city mandates, code requirements, and limitless obstacles. No matter how well planned, researched, or studied, each project inevitably runs up against its hurdle.
Architecture can be described as livable art pursued in the real built environment. Sometimes that sounds like two mutually exclusive pursuits. Art enjoys the freedom, non-conformance, expressive fluidity of the creative process. It is the pursuit and the result of passion. Conversely, the real built environment is laden with rules, codes, calculations, guidelines, and restrictions. It is more about what you cannot do, than what you can. Oftentimes, in the pursuit of inspiring architecture, these two forces oppose each other, and we find ourselves at an impasse. In order to comply with the restrictions and codes of the built environment, it appears that we must let go of some of the design components of the project.
This is the critical step. The architect’s role and commitment to his/her design integrity is significant at this juncture. Certainly the design can be altered in order to comply, but will it lose its vitals? Will it crumble without its core? In so doing, are we losing the design integrity that gave the project its spirit?
This is where the real work begins; because we must problem solve while holding tightly to our creative passion; we must be flexible, but not to the point of spinelessness. Though frustrating at times, and though the solutions can be puzzling and evasive, without these hurdles the results of our passion would be solely Art. However, architecture has a significant calling to be much more than three dimensional Art. It has a mission to create unforgettable spaces with undeniable spirit.
In our lives, how many times have we been traveling along smoothly when we feel that we are sideswiped and hit with an obstacle unforeseen? In those moments, we feel derailed, and we can lose our inspired goal, wishing to give up. On the other hand, we can make the choice to stand firm in our integrity, to push forward and overcome the obstacle without losing sight of our dream or vision. And it is often those unforeseen shifts that can become the catalyst for the most interesting changes and most inspired solutions.
In 1991, I was working at an architecture firm while finishing my thesis at school. I had watched as a recession began that transformed a 50 person architecture firm down to 30 people within weeks. And then, it was my turn to be laid off.
Married, pregnant with my first child, and finishing my Masters at SCI-Arc, I did not feel that I could sincerely pursue another job just then. I had no idea if I would need maternity leave or not. It would have certainly been easy to take that layoff as a sign to put the career on hold. But….that was a key pivotal moment in my life.
Rather than looking to be hired by another firm, I focused on the creativity in architecture that had captivated me, and found my first independent project. What happened after that was the start of Otis Architecture, and a career that has brought me so much freedom, creativity, and fulfillment. Sometimes I think back and wonder if I would have had the guts to go on my own, begin my own practice, if it were not for being unexpectedly derailed in 1991.
So looking at your life now, is there something that life has thrown you that is an obstacle you had not foreseen? Did life somehow take an unexpected turn? Did the stifled economy of the last few years affect your career and/or retirement? Do you feel frustrated that your goals and dreams feel out of reach?
Once you have absorbed the shock of being derailed, and sorted through the frustration that accompanies the shock, step back and assess your life with a clear mind. Let go of the mindset where you thought you knew exactly how your life was supposed to be. Allow your thoughts some flexibility, and begin to accept that the outcome may differ from your preconception.
And finally, elicit your talent and strength in the face of this adversity. Something new may be anxiously waiting in the wings. The result may be inspired.
"An obstacle is often an unrecognized opportunity."