Saturday, February 7, 2009


As I sit looking up at the bright lights of New York populate what once must have been a dark sky, I can’t help but wonder why these buildings elicit such strong emotions within me. I have a personal relationship with many of them. A very personal relationship. Dare I say intimate even? They evoke emotions within me much the same way other people do. These are potent emotions. Potent, yet transient. Cogent, yet fleeting.

What is the source of such emotion?

Maybe it is the architect himself. Maybe I am interpreting, reacting to, and experiencing the building in just the way he intended me to. This answer, if true, is discouraging for me. Omnipotence, especially someone else’s omnipotence, does not sit right. It renders us helpless and leaves us open to manipulation.

Maybe it is the function and form of the building that elicits such emotions. We react to say “glass box” office buildings in one way, sleek luxury apartment buildings in another, and old brick warehouses in yet another. This response, however, does not do the details justice and again renders the viewer impotent. Creative individuality and interpretation is the foundation of the architectural profession. They say don’t sweat the small stuff. Whoever said this probably didn’t have much of an interest in architecture.

The answer, for me, is more empowering for the individual. In fact, it is completely empowering. We need to recognize that we are the sole source of our emotions. Buildings do not exist outside of our minds. They are neither independent nor separate from us. Instead, they are interdependent.

This may be hard to accept at first, but let me try to illustrate my point with an example provided to me by a Buddhist teacher. Consider a rainbow. What is a rainbow? There is no easy answer to this question. We might begin by describing why one sees a rainbow. “When drops of moisture in the Earth’s atmosphere refract light in such a way that the viewer…” Ah hah. The viewer. The viewer is a key ingredient in the “existence” of a rainbow. A rainbow does not actually exist in a particular location in the sky. It does not exist independent of the viewer. When asked for a location, the viewer will likely say “over there,” but he is amiss. The rainbow is only “over there” in his mind. It is not independent of his mind. It is interdependent.

Buildings are no different. Like rainbows, which require physical objects such as a light and moisture for their existence, buildings require physical objects such as brick and steel. But they do not exist independent of our minds. Our perception is completely dependent on us. I did not always find this easy to accept. In fact, I met it with great resistance at first. Once I was able to accept this, however, I found it to be one of the most liberating feelings I have had in a long time. We are truly free to use our experiences, philosophies, states of mind, and values to interpret buildings (and most anything in life for that matter) in any way we choose. Or any way our mind chooses. This is, after all, what makes our emotions so simultaneously potent and ephemeral. Each of these things make us who we are, but they (like we) are never the same moment to moment.

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