Decay and disintegration are simply factors of time. Nothing lasts, change is constant. The natural process of dematerialization is everywhere. If we ourselves aren’t tearing it down, the forces that surround us are. So architecture must blaze, not to make way for the avant garde, but because it has no choice. As much as we covet the new (out of our own fear of impermanence) and seek perfection in unworn ‘beauty’, it never lasts. It may be time to look outside of our expectations.
Wabi Sabi is a Japanese term that loosely translates into “embracing the imperfect” and “celebrating he worn”. It involves a ‘natural’ transformation, and might be viewed as nature reclaiming what was always hers to begin with. It is the evidence of the inevitable return to dust, or at least a transformation to a different life. We don’t have a great deal of appreciation for it here in the west, but it finds us none the less.
It is nearly impossible to ‘make’ something ‘imperfect’. It is more of a process, something that happens. We can capture its qualties in the act of designing, and it helps to have a condition to grow out of. In reality there always is one, we simply need to 1.) be able to see it, and 2.) accept it for what it is, in all its roughness and rawness, and 3.) be willing to accept what emerges.
It is a rusting spoon, an aging sheet of plywood, warped and rusting metal peeling off the side of a warehouse. It is plaster that wasn’t made smooth, broken bits of lattice, the knots in a board, the warp in a ceramic cup, the wrinkles on an old mans face. These things don’t meet our usual standard of beauty because it is based on the endless parade of ageless models, new cars, freshly painted McMansions we are bombarded with. Instead, try ‘making it ugly’. Reconsider what you’ve been told, what you are being fed.
The potential for architecture in embracing the imperfect is that in accepting natual processes we may start to see more of the beauty of the world. By challenging the conventions of beauty, we open our minds to a broader place, and gain the potential to appreciate more of the world around us. This is important because we are so often dissatisfied with our world and situation because we are basing our ideas of happiness and success on a narrow definition that is ingrained through cultural beliefs. There is undoubtable beauty in those beliefs as well, but they are in the end limiting. And in this sense, architecture can be appreciated through an alternative lens. It can also be designed through that lens.
I should conclude by pointing out that the notion of imperfect does not define our work (it is more important to remain adaptable), but we like to consider it from time to time. We often look to elements in a site, or in a problem that might be considered disadvantages, and view them as opportunities, ultimately attempting to turn those opportunities into assets. But at the same time we enjoy the new. After all, there’s nothing like the roar of the engine in a new Corvette Stingray, and the glint of sunlight across the shining hood as it races down the highway.