Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Ideal and the Real

An architect once told my grandfather, “Building is like art. You either build for beauty and individuality or for profit and income.” This architect was smart. Also rich. And practical. I am practical myself. In fact, I am extremely practical. But I hate practical people. I hate everything about practicality. There is nothing redeeming about it, except that it gets you places. It gets things accomplished. It gets things done.

Idealism. Now there is a concept. It requires no work. Just thought. It is the ultimate notion of the muser. The ultimate tenet of the sage. I admire idealists. I strive to be one, and I find myself becoming more and more like one everyday. Don’t get me wrong. There are costs. It gets me nowhere. But who wants to get anywhere these days? Another smart man once said, “It is better to travel than to arrive” (I think it was Robert Pirsig). Inaction abounds with idealism, but it is a nice perception to have of oneself. And sometimes, just sometimes, perception can be reality.

Architectural idealism is unlike other forms of artistic idealism. It requires money and power. Which require practicality. Pretty ironic if you ask me. Art requires paint and a canvas. Music requires a guitar or two sticks and a bucket. Architecture requires steel, glass, real estate, and a construction crew. It requires city permits and boardroom approvals. Most importantly, it requires compromise, and it is compromise that is the perennial enemy of the idealist.

So was the architect right? Or can we build for both beauty and profit? The realist in me has doubts. But he is making the assumption that pure beauty cannot be profitable. My idealist side counters with the assumption that profit, though secondary, will generally follow if we refuse to sacrifice our vision. This is analogous to the cliché that if you follow your dreams, the money will follow you (the good old notion of being “long term greedy”). Or maybe compromise and sacrifice are not enemies of the idealist. Maybe they should be the ultimate aspirations of the idealist. For compromise and sacrifice create a shared vision, and a shared vision can be beautiful (and profitable) for all.

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