Chapter 2: The Outline of the Argument

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Chapter 2. The Outline of the Argument: Collaborate with a Professional

Recently, an artist I know asked to come see both the Creek House and the RiverHouse. He’d been in the spaces before socially, but he was planning on designing and building a home/studio/gallery himself in another part of the state. He subscribes to the small, green-built house close to nature, and he was drawn to the details in an artistic home like ours. He is, as we were, on a budget. The artist thought, as I originally had, that he could hand his artistic design to a structural engineer to get through plan-check and go from there. I found myself trying to articulate my warrants to him, advocating not just for reflective, authentic design (which he was already on board with), but also for collaborating with an artist-architect, who can help him realize his complete vision.

I said to my artist friend:

  1. You want to design for your unique and overlapping needs. Designing a house with multiple-use workspace, social space, display space, and all the while an inspiration for an artist requires much more skill than tastefully arranging a cavernous grouping of rectangles filled with lots of cool furniture and artwork to match the color-scheme.
  2. You are inspired by ideas that are fresh and original, and you appreciate creative solutions to even small problems. You despise conformity, the pedestrian, and the banal. But, like me, your depth is as limited as your experience in architectural problem-solving. Art Dyson likes to say that we came to him with the floorplans for both houses, and our floorplan is evident in the flow from room to room. But he downplays the sheer genius of his connecting this angle to that one and his attention to the way we move through the space. Most artists deal in fewer dimensions than architects. Even sculptors mostly work from the outside in; Auguste Rodin talked about freeing the figure trapped in the marble. It occurs to me that fashion design is the most similar in that it must adhere to human movement and physical comfort in ways that other genres do not.
  3. You are sensitive to space, light, texture, sound, and color. Not everyone is. Not even every architect. Understanding these atmospheric sensory details will make you and guests more comfortable in your space. It takes experience (and sensitivity) to know how to maximize them, based on your tastes. As brilliant an artist as you are in your own medium, and as fine-tuned your vision may be, unless you are an architect yourself, I contend that partnering with an architect is necessary to fulfill your dream. Many people take photos—and some amateurs take some good photos–but an artistic photographer has more experience, more techniques and understanding of the materials, more deep understanding, and, when it’s done well, the result can be breathtaking.
  4. You have financial limits and priorities that will mean you skimp on some things and splurge on others—and it’s not just a matter of initial cost; you will undoubtedly consider energy efficiency and your time. Of course you’ll set the priorities, but allow someone with comprehensive experience to show you the options. Just as you can pay an accountant to save you money on your taxes, an architect may reduce your costs with clever choices.
  5. You revel in your connection to nature and want to interact without intruding, all while avoiding waste and leaving a light footprint. While much of this technology has been around for millennia, this technology is always evolving. You might introduce new possibilities, but a professional might have simple solutions and will pull it all together.
  6. You want your home to express your personality, so work closely with your architect and be as honest and forthcoming as possible. Your architect should be candid and ask a lot of questions, and the designs should reflect those answers.
  7. You feel compelled to nurture, share, and promote beauty; doing so is a goal of authentic architecture and a gift to society.

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