High Road House (w/ Robert McGillis, AIA)
This project is an allegory to examine the function of ‘dead spaces’, and the how and why of their use or preservation. The analysis extends to the conflicting nature of governmental and societal value and codification with the organic nature of the development of the built environment in a culture that is simultaneously obsessed with death and consistently hiding (or hiding from) its reality. It also explores the possibility of an alternate condition that looks to the celebration of death by seeing the beauty in decay and natural process. These elements are embodied in the proposed architecture. The Grim Reaper walks into the department of building and planning. "What can we help you with today?" "I'm planning to build a large structure, and I'd like to better understand the design constraints." "How many people will it house?" "I'm thinking about 10,000 souls to start, with room for expansion." "Well, that's going to be a major use permit, and will require design review. You'll also need to check with fire, as at least 1 exit will be required for each 50 people." "That's like 200 exits" "Yes" "Well, not too many of these souls will be exiting." "It doesn't matter. You will need to be sure to meet all required fire code regulations." "Is there any sort of variance process for unique circumstances?" "Yes, but you should have the intended residents show up for a neighborhood meeting first, to discuss their view on the project with all interested parties." "Um, ok. But I don't think these residents are going to have to much to say to the neighbors. They're a rather quiet bunch." "It doesn't matter. We want to be sure that they have discussed the project with the neighborhood. The needs of the new residents must be in harmony with everyone else's needs. We can't just let them do whatever they want." "Ok. Their needs are very limited." "Can you tell me more about who these people are?" "Well, they're dead. Dead people." "Oh, ok. Why didn't you say so? That means you're also going to need to apply with the health department as well." "Ok, I'll do that. I have a few more questions about the design review process." "Go ahead." "What are the design criteria?" "You pretty much need it to look like it fits in. We like to say we don't want you to 'copy' anything, but you pretty much have to make it look like its neighbors. Or we won't approve it. Or we'll at least make you suffer so much that you'll just give up" "Even if the neighbors are living and my residents will be dead? I was thinking this structure could be more a 'celebration of death'. Which is sort of like a celebration of life if you think about it." "That sounds unique. Very controversial." "Well, it probably is. Isn't it a bit ironic that as a culture we are so fascinated, even obsessed with death, and yet we try to hide our dead away? Movies, sports, politics all seem to celebrate violence and death. Action movies, horror flicks, football, boxing, and football, and televised wars all seem to flirt with the proximity to death. But perhaps it's just the edge that people want to skirt. When it comes time to face me, no one seems too anxious. But there is something beautiful about actually joining the ranks of the dead. More beautiful than so much of what the culture machine produces. And the spaces for the dead, like death, should be great equalizers. Because after all, we are all equal in death. So my proposal has a great deal of repetition. I believe that is the beauty." "Well, we will judge your design and determine if it's is good or not. Now, speaking of good, can you tell me how the project will be 'green'? We require everything to undergo maximum governmental regulation when it comes to sustainability. We've invented laws for it" "It's funny, I always thought that George Carlin joke was funny - save the planet? The planet isn't going anywhere, but the people? They're the ones that'll be gone. Anyway, sustainability as a governmentally regulated, standardized, applied methodology is its own form of atrocity. That should just be called good design. It should be integral to design thought, not something someone is regulated into doing - applying technology until you've scored enough 'points'. I was talking to my friend Shinigami the other day about the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi. As best as he could explain it to me, it is the appreciation of age, or perhaps the presence of time and to some degree decay and death. It is also defined in part by nature and natural processes (decay and death certainly fit into this category). We seem to have lost this connection in the west. Not only do we truly fear death, but we don't appreciate the beauty of wear and age. That we don't understand is evidenced by our feeble attempts to replicate the architecture of some past fashioned out of materials and ideologies that are so much of the present. The result is a travesty of watered down thoughts, each beset by the others as a cavalcade of bureaucrats, preservationists, anti-gentrification gentrifying hipsters, neighbors, developers, and other architects attempt to force their opinions upon one another. Any possibility for creativity (and the resultant 'sustainability') is crushed in the onslaught." "Well, this all sounds like a pretty out of the ordinary proposal. I'm going to have to get my supervisor. Wait here..."