What architects do doesn’t count

Yesterday, a good friend of mine wrote “It doesn’t count, unless it’s built.”

I read this, and thought. “I completely agree with this”. And, then my head began to hurt. More.

Because, what does that say about my work? (I don’t mean the obvious reference to my lack of built work the last few years). No, I mean in general, my work isn’t about a built project. It’s about a vision of an unbuilt project. Or more specifically, my work is about visualizing an as yet realized building. My work isn’t a physical thing that you can order from Amazon. My work is not a thing at all. It’s a path to a thing.

I meet with a client. I listen to them describe their idea of this thing that doesn’t exist yet, and then I begin to work. I slowly use the tools of my trade to bring into focus an image of what that idea can become. It’s a poetic endeavor really; making these images of forms and light that point towards someone else’s hopes for their future. It’s a translucent profession, not an opaque craft.

So, if it doesn’t count until it’s built? What was I working on this whole time? And, I’m not going to build it. Someone else is going to do that. I’m creating the guidelines for it’s construction. Someone else is going to take those documents I slaved over for months and months and use them to guide the construction of someone else’s building. It doesn’t count, unless it’s built? Does that mean that the true value of a project is only realized at the end? Does the process count? Yes, of course it does. But, then again, what does the client value? The process? Or, do they just see that as a means towards the end that they truly value?

Every client I’ve had has been passionately concerned about “their” building. None have been overly passionate about the documents and concepts I’ve created. Those are just pieces of paper. No one is ever passionate about pieces of paper. But, those markings on that paper represent potential. They point towards the thing; the unrealized physical form. So, when we get excited by the markings on the paper, it’s because they enable us to see what isn’t there yet. We’re excited because we can picture the possibility.

But, if the work needs to be realized for it to count? Then it’s possible that all my efforts, all the efforts of my profession actually, have no real value.

Because we don’t design the destination.

We design the path.

 

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the photo is from Bjorn Giesenbaue’s Flickr stream and has been used under the creative commons license