Giving thanks for imagination, creative genius, and flow. #letsblogoff #architecture

In tribute to November’s annual eat-fest, the Let’s Blog Off  gang asks: What makes us thankful? You can read my blogging friends’ thoughts on Thanksgiving here . They will make you laugh, cry, remember, relate, and even get organized. I am thankful for people who dare to imagine and push boundaries. Maybe people like you?  


One of my very closest friends knew a lot about imagination. You could say

 Gordon was a creativity guru or a midwife to ideation. He used metaphoric stories to reveal the mysteries of originality and release the visions you hold deep inside.

For instance, a cow chewing its cud for hours performs the miracle of making milk. Creativity is like that. The imagination needs freedom to gestate. You can’t measure it, you can’t see it, and you sure as hell can’t sell it until the idea is ready. That peculiar work of invention frustrates bean counters no end. Yet new ideas depend on wandering, experimenting, failing, and recreating, on linking thoughts and images in strange wondrous ways and allowing explosions.

I live for the moments of feeling that rush of ideas, the joy of inspiration, being in the flow. It’s an out of body time where I may not notice food or drink and surely not time passing. I’m the cow in the field imagining a world that does not yet exist.

Every day someone is creating something so startling that you can hardly breathe when you see it. Your body reacts, prickles on the neck, tears of pure awe. You feel their genius. Yet few seeds of brilliance ever escape the womb of the imagination. We forget them before we can draw or write. The sketch doesn’t fulfill the vision. Others throw up roadblocks; it’s too large, too small, too bizarre, too too too many lines. Who knows, someone says it’s just too… And it will never be built.

Revelations 2010

This year,ultra towers,kinetic structures,new towns,urban agriculture, andflying security robots transformed our images of 21st century cities. A few are absolute revelations. I am thankful for the spectacular ideas and courageous acts of imagination and fortitude that survived the maze of barriers and naysayers. 


1. The Seed Cathedral reframes architecture as sustainable and ephemeral – a new paradigm beyond theCrystal Palace and theblur building. 60,000 shimmering filaments carry Millennium seeds that will give birth to a future bio-diverse forest. 



2. In the aftermath of the catastrophic Haiti earthquake,Architecture for Humanity bypassed the usual routes of bureaucracy and organized working communities of Haitians toenvision a vibrant future, starting with new housing and schools. 

3. Living City Design Competition recognizes cities that are making extraordinary efforts to envision a socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative civilization. Can your city meet the challenge? Submissions due in February.



4. The secretive

Underbelly Project flaunts the work of street artists on subterranean walls of an abandoned New York subway station. Watch an inspiring short video via the NY Times. 



5. Outside Mexico City,

Container City adapts lowly shipping containers into a miraculous mixed use village. Imagine what we can do with junk.



6. Non-Sign II near the Canadian border conveys a simple message of… air.

7. Of the hundred-odd books I devoured, a few absolutely blew my mind. Do not miss:The Original Green by Steven Mouzon (drawn from deep knowledge, a manifesto on society, sustainability, and architecture),Cartographies of Time by Rosenberg and Grafton (stunning images of ancient to contemporary timelines reveal belief systems through the ages), andThe Watchman’s Rattle by Rebecca Costa (has innovation outpaced our brains?)


What sparks your imagination?

Do you look for people with purple hair, unexpected shoes, carrying a tube or drawing tools, or walking with a different gait? They hold some particular energy, the bodacious ideas churning in their gut, planning to capture the thing before it disappears. Perhaps that person is you.

It’s a bit of madness, by some standards. We all have it. We may camouflage it, forget it, fail to cultivate it, but we surely flung it around as children. Back when we wore fuscia boots, finger painted, and skipped. Someone somewhere told us our drawing, singing, dancing were not good enough and bang!  The imagination snapped inwards, afraid of further castigation. Is yours still hiding, damaged by thoughtless words, snooty looks?   

Gordon’s final lesson: you have a masterpiece inside you. If you go to your grave without painting it, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you. 

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the ideas that you share and the miracles you create. 

What makes you thankful?

    • Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.

      You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.

      There are wheatfields and mountain passes,

      And orchards in bloom.

      You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up

      In the dark with eyes closed.

      Listen to the answer.

      There is no “other world.”

      I only know what I’ve experienced.

      You must be hallucinating.  –Rumi

Images:Imagination Allows by Gaping Void Hugh McLeod; Lead Pencil StudioNon-Sign II, Blaine, WA;Container City, Mexico;Seed Cathedral at Shanghai Expo by Thomas Heatherwick;The Underbelly Project, New York City;Boatanic Floating Farms, Amsterdam 


  1. Paul Anater says:

    Great post! Thanks for chiming in. I need to see The Seed Cathedral. I need to.

  2. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Paul, take me along, ok??

  3. beckami says:

    Amazing sources of inspiration – thanks for sharing!

  4. ModernSauce says:

    Fantastic post! Always so packed with goodies! I wish my boss would understand my imagination’s need for more cud-chewing freedom!

  5. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    heh, you got it Madame Sunday. why do i imagine you have your ways of finding freedom??

  6. Denese Bottrell says:

    I’m grateful I’ve given myself more time for creativity this year. Next year I hope to let go of trying to explain / justify it. Thanks for the reminder that the creative process is inexplicable…. it just takes time… and it looks different for everyone.

  7. bobborson says:

    Cindy, I always feel like I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing after I read one of your posts. Outlets are important, I’ll agree with you on that one. I think the ones that keep changing are the most interesting.great post

  8. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Denese – I’m happy to hear that! its the best use of time, being creative… and a rare few manage to do it. keep me posted, hope you share some of your revelations and designs.

  9. ecomod says:

    Wow – that seed cathedral looks awe inspiring. Great post, Cindy. Now I have some new books to look forward to this winter!

  10. Modenus says:

    Great post Cindy and thanks for keeping the Turkey out of this. :)

  11. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Becky, Isnt it a stunner? when something like that happens, you have take note, yes? a moment of dazzling brilliance. I think the Non-Sign sculpture has similar DNA. many small objects to make a completely new pattern – like crowdsourcing objects. let me know if you read any of those books. have a excellent list of fiction too, shorter list and not so fussy on those being 2010 – post fiction on and those are ebooks, so no pile of dead trees to photo. ;-)

  12. ecomod says:

    Yeah I like the Non Sign, too. I haven’t been reading anything for a long time. I felt like it would sap my energy away from business building. I wouldn’t mind finding something funny to read & relax by though.

  13. BMoxieBMore says:

    cindy a thoughtful well researched piece (inside joke). . . beautiful images (especially loved the naturalness of container city) — LOVE the idea of the “flow” being found in our childhood. you make any blogoff better and you are really smart. thanks for posting.

  14. Harold Good says:

    Great post!

  15. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    jb, thanks for reading, esp after yr long day. and for the generous words, smart and well researched, eh? a double plus. ;-) that container city has a real intimacy about it, a thoughtfulness, doesnt it? many projects are working w/ them, few make the boxes livable, attractive for people. excellent use for all those thousands of containers that sit at every port

  16. Steve Mouzon says:

    Great post, Cindy… thanks! And thanks so much for the Original Green book mention! In my experience, one of the best fuels for imagination is the expectation that something cool might be just about to happen. Kinda like on the charrette I just finished yesterday, working with a Jacksonville homeless mission that has a… get this… culinary school! They figure that if someone is homeless, they may have a skills deficit, and there are obviously plenty of jobs in kitchens everywhere. So they train the homeless to cook, and also feed the homeless with the work of the students. More on this in an upcoming post… but in any case, working on a project like that which so jolts normal expectations is a “target-rich zone” for imagination!

  17. cupboards says:

    Great post and photos!

  18. Larry Garnett says:

    Thanks for your thoughts – the container city in Mexico certainly is inspiring – next time I hear the comment, “your new urbanism ideas are way to expensive and difficult to use, ” I’ll refer to this project!

  19. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    thanks Larry, agree, that’s a strong argument. It might work better when the context is open, not near other traditional developments? London also has a Container City, more ‘upscale’ and within an urban context. I wonder how the cost of the projects compare? would be a good bit of data to know. thanks for reading and for your comments!

  20. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Bob – I sent you a tweet, and now see that I didnt respond here. You’re an expert at cultivating many creative outlets, very important. And your blog is doing a great service, giving regular insights into the life of an architect who designs custom homes. You are in the thick of your career and family life, so it’s quite valuable for people to see what you are doing and what you care about. Very valuable insights, keep doing it! in 10 or 20 years, you may do more what I am doing, the big picture view and the long view.

  21. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Steve, your charrette sounds like it went very well; those are some of the best events we can do to immerse people in the process. That’s an excellent idea, a culinary school. My firm designed a culinary education facility for a Job Corps campus – troubled youth. they even served dinners to locals on occasion on campus; we created a dining space. Highly successful program. Something about food and cooking that builds community, career, and life skills. congratulations!

  22. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Nick, Hal, Ami and Veronika – thanks for reading and for your kind words! Cindy

  23. Steve Mouzon says:

    Thanks, Cindy! It was exceptionally cool… hopefully it’ll turn into a built project before long.

  24. Saxon Henry says:

    I’m going to be mining your book list, Cindy; looks like quite a few of them are going to be “must reads” for me. I’ve always been fascinated with how the early cartographers actually managed to map the world. Mapping time; now that’s an even more interested exercise! Happy Thanksgiving!

  25. EcoFrendlyPaint says:

    I love how your words are able to stir emotion within. I think you capture what so many feel on a daily basis, the inner innovator, inventor, writer, etc that yearns to cast aside the mundane and explore the unknown. Really enjoyed the post, and I’ll be making a trip to the Charleston public library this weekend to peruse a couple of the titles you shared.Happy Thanksgiving to all!Jamey Burrell (also @jamesdburrell2)

  26. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Saxon – you can see from the maps how worldviews changed to adopt the latest geographic knowledge. and the role of humans and god. mind opening. let me know if you read any of these, great reads.

  27. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Jamey, lucky you, living in America’s loveliest city. I worked on the Noisette sustainable redevelopment of the North Charieston Naval base – a fantastic project, visionary. think its moving along slowly but surely, a 30 year build-out. Hope you have a creative outlet… cindy

  28. Saxon Henry says:

    I’ve put them on my unfortunately long reading list but will definitely let you know when I’ve had a chance to get to them. I love exchanging book lists with other people; always brings new insight into my life!

  29. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Saxon: your book Four Florida Moderns inspired me and deserves a spot on my list of 2010 favorites. Noticed that the architecture and design books are missing entirely. they reside in my intensive work space upstairs; have to do another post just on design books. agree, love to share books, Goodreads helps.

  30. Saxon Henry says:

    What a compliment coming from you, dear! So very appreciated! #architecture rocks!

  31. CASUDI says:

    I am thankful that I have vision about making a difference and starting something new…….and the get go to get up and try it. Why I am thankful about doing this?……. well so many of my peers are pulling in their horns and living smaller. This was a meaningful post Cindy, with some great examples. Happy Thanksgiving @CASUDI

  32. lindanaiman says:

    Great post. I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon MacKenzie back in 1997 at an innovation conference. I still remember his keynote! Like you I too live for the moments of feeling that rush of ideas, the joy of inspiration, and being in the flow. I especially love facilitating groups to experience this through creative collaboration.

  33. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    hello Caroline, you have gumption in spades, plenty of it, inspirational. thanks for reading, commenting, happy thanksgiving to you too, hope you spend it w/ dear ones. cindy

  34. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Linda – I hoped someone would write w/ that story. 32 comments later, here you are. Gordon and I presented together many times, wish I did it more but my firm was running me hard. imagine your seminars inspire people too. keep risking, pushing limits.thank you for writing, a wonderful connection.

  35. Bernd Nurnberger says:

    Wow, Cindy, and all. This makes me feel like I got a whole year worth of urban verse in a cork-popping package of premium bubbly. Thank you for being here like this. Aaand thank you @CASUDI for laying the twitter trace to this experience. Cheers!

  36. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Bernd, am happy that Caroline @casudi sent you my way. welcome! fun to see you here after our future of money event/collaboration. and to find out you know casudi. small planet of twitter, just amazing interconnectivity. have a guest blog tomorrow on Place of Dreams – @anammanzo’s blog. Ana’s running a series on harmony, you might like her blog too. cindy

  37. Bernd Nurnberger says:

    Thanks, Cindy. it was Caroline with whom I had a big happy emotional culture shock, imagine, just by plain virtual networking. Giving thanks to @Casudi and @VenessaMiemis on my pre-Posterous blog. Thanks for @anammanzo’s blog, good deed today: connect an architect.

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