As we continue preparations for the first RAW workshop this summer, I think a lot about why it means so much to me, why we’re pouring so much energy into creating the experience, even as all the details are still being flushed out. It’s a familiar feeling.
Several years ago, I was having a discussion with my son about presents and his upcoming birthday. It went something like this,
Son: “Dad, can I have a PS3 for my birthday?”
Me: “I don’t think so. I’d rather have you go outside and skateboard or jump on the tramp or……actually, do just about anything other than sit inside and play a video game.”
Son: “Awe, come on, why not?”
Me: “We’d much rather spend money on going places and doing things than on a PS3.”
Son: “But why not?”
Me: “Answer this for me. What did you get for your birthday last year?”
Son: “I don’t know.”
Me: “What did you get last Christmas?”
Son: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “Hmmmm. How about this one – what did we DO last year for Christmas?”
Son: “We went to Merida” (Mexico).
The truth is, he had gotten an iPod for Christmas which he hadn’t remembered and hardly used, and we had gone to Merida over the break and had a wonderful time. In fact, he was able to rattle off a long list of experiences we had on that trip. I think he could have gone on and on, but stopped short when he saw where my question was leading, that he was proving my point with every word.
I believe we remember that which impacts our lives the most. And the iPod in the drawer couldn’t compete with skinny dipping in a remote cenote, haggling with a vendor for a coconut carved tennis player or even eating breakfast at Pop’s Restaurant. A few years have passed and my son’s iPod is long gone, but he takes that playlist of memories with him always.
I think of the importance of experience often in my work as an architect and now even more with the creation of RAW. What really is the value of the things we design and make? Is architecture, like an iPod, a thing? I think not. My answer to these questions leans against the forces of our profession that I believe firmly supports the idea of “Architecture as Object.” I would argue, instead, it’s about the experience. The experience while making architecture and the experience of living in architecture.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there as much as anyone and know the value of a nice glossy spread in a design magazine. And I love making things that on their own are beautiful and well crafted. But, as architects, if we’re looking to make an significant impact in the world, we might remember that, like the iPod, the objects we make will eventually make their way into the drawer, but the experiences we create, for ourselves and others, will live on.