The future of harmony and cities #architecture

During the past month, Venezuelan architect Ana Manzo @anammanzo hosted a series about harmony on her blog The Place of Dreams. Mine was the 14th post. Who knew that architects, designers, contractors, and related folks could find so much richness in one word? You can read the entire series here.    

What is harmony?

My blogging friends defined harmony beautifully onAna’s blog. They found harmony in rock and roll, poetry, nature, relationships, ancient sacred ground, and architecture. Diverse elements cooperate into a completely new sound, different and more complex than the individual notes. Harmony is not a state or condition; it’s a perfect balance achieved by coordinating diversity. Through complexity, we find unity.

Ana said harmony is love. I think that’s right. Love sees us and accepts us as we are. The Greeks agreed. They invented the word – harmonia – to mean joint agreement or accord. It’s compromise, joining, and fitting together. 

My question is: are we becoming more harmonious? And how do we find harmony in cities? First, I want to add one more idea to harmony – rebellion.

Is harmony always good?

Are there times we prefer life beyond accord?  Foucault fretted over harmony, which he saw as oppression, pressure to conform. That’s the rebel’s voice. I would call that pushing limits, testing the edges of conformity. In harmony, the notes desire each other, respect difference, and create a new sound, unlike any single note. They seek a community of notes, joining the most extreme, and all are transformed, transcendent, into a richer, more complex voice.   

We need single notes too. They come first, the ingredients of harmony. And the further they push, the more complex, varied, intriguing harmonies emerge. Individual notes must be celebrated. Sometimes I wantMonk.   

How does harmony work in architecture?

Architects argue about harmony. Christopher Alexander believes that great towns and cities blend the parts into the whole. “When you actually get all those elements correct, at a certain point you begin to feel that they are in harmony.” Peter Eisenman claims that disharmony and harmony exist in the cosmos; we need both. He fights for individual expression.

Is it possible that these opposites are two sides of the same coin? These modern lions fight over the same terms. Disharmony and incongruity aim at order, as does harmony. Some choose to conform and others fight. That is a mindset, the either/or way of 20th century thinking.

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Here’s true harmony to me – both/and.

Both compatible buildings and buildings that contrast. Exceptions prove the rule. Are Bilbao’s historical buildings more memorable next to Calatrava’s Zubizuri footbridge?

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Do you

feel greater attraction to the Nelson-Atkins Museum thanks to Holl’s ultra-modern addition?

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Does the

Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial open your eyes to the heroics of the neo-classical monuments? To me, thats the role of harmony to celebrate difference. And we still need powerful, single notes.

Too much conformity, you get suburbs or Disney-fake, like a one-dimensional painting. Too much clashing, you get single notes competing, Las Vegas-style. If single voices are never heard, if remarkable buildings are never seen, the city goes flat. 

What is harmony in society?

Harmony, you might say, begins inside of us and informs our relationship with the universe. It works through me to we, to things, to nature, to cosmos.

Claire Graves invented a developmental model of humans, societies, even civilization calledSpiral Dynamics. The nine tiers of self-awareness (color -coded) ormemes move towards greater harmony and connectivity – instinctive (beige), animistic (purple), egocentric (red), authoritative (blue), achiever (orange), consensual (green), integral (yellow), holistic (turquoise), next? (coral).

With more people, interconnectivity expands – or needs to. So we learn and adopt better models. It’s also what gives us hope – belief in a better future. With environmental problems and planet limits, our technological and social developments are barely staying ahead of our need to live together, our urge for harmony. Sometimes we fail catastrophically.

Plus you never forget those former memes; you incorporate them and add more parts, more skills and choices. You become more fully human. As societies, we are more connected than we possibly imagined. In short, we continually strive for greater harmony.

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What is greater harmony in cities?

We started with caves and we ended in suburbs? Be still my heart! Surely we can improve on that. These one-note communities were just a stop on the way, an orange meme. Sometimes we really blow it, given too much power too soon, a baby with matches. And then we are forced to fix our errors, where the hardest part may be admitting it.

Jane Jacobs claimed, “Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination.”

Here’s how I see these memes in cities. Beige – caves. Purple – primitive tribal villages. Red – Ancient Greece, Rome. Blue – fortressed cities, castles, cathedrals. Orange – industrialization, skyscrapers, suburbs. Green – new urbanism, sustainable design, revitalization. Yellow – living cities, restorative. Turquoise – adaptive, co-creating, biomimicry. Coral – too soon to know; biogenetics, nano, neurotech, transhumanism, singularity?

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Harmony Tattoos

We are re-calculating, re-examining our lifestyles. How to become more harmonious, to live with seven, eight, or nine billion people? How to be in balance with the planet, to replenish resources rather than deplete them? And how to cultivate quality.

How do you love life? How do your clothes, home, city, your tattoos express that and feed your spirit?

The moderns (not in design, but in thinking) believe in an oppositional blue/orange mindset. My way or no way. Green thinkers want to cooperate, create communities, and build sustainably. Yellows adapt on the fly, see wholes and parts, and are comfortable with constant change, in other words, harmony. Different notes combine to express entirely new sounds while still celebrating you. 

Our cities need to be that way. I’d say the first harmonious cities will be yellow.  

Harmony is love and we grow towards it. Not harmony all sugar and sweet, pastoral utopias, but with all the tangs and twists of human nature wound together as separate strands for resilience. It’s the tattooed city, visibly expressing who we are and who we want to be.

  • What color is your city? What’s harmony to you?

Images, videos:  Thelonious MonkRound About Midnight; CalatravaZubizuri Foot Bridge, Bilbao, Spain; HollNelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, USA; Maya LinVietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC.

 

Living Large and Small: Trading Hummers for PUMAs Ain’t the Whole Story #blogoff

Some of my friends on twitter have this cool idea called a blog off. We each post on the same idea, which today is about living large by being small. We include a list of each others’ blogs at the end. Fantastic Idea!

The Problem of Big

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It’s possible we began thinking bigger was better when we decided bigger meant richer, more powerful, successful, cool.

Size meant status. (Please save me from becoming too graphic, ok?) Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger tv’s, even bigger meals. And bigger bodies, and bigger med bills.

This problem of size is a modern living problem, I think. Pioneers didn’t build too big; they were naturally frugal. Who wants to chop extra logs to build or heat a cabin? And the windows were mercilessly tiny – good for security, no doubt, but who can live without BIG glass? And the Great Depression, World War II – they saved gum wrappers and built Victory Gardens. No wasters among them.

Then came the hippy generation, free love and rock n roll. Wearing blue jeans and peasant blouses, car-pooling in VW vans to Woodstock, the long hair generation knew all about earth living. You might say they were wasted, rarely wasteful. Every little seed pod was treated like a royal gem.

Then we blew it. About forty years ago, houses, cars, cities, meals, waistlines, you name it, everything just grew. And grew. And grew. Why? Only answer I got is: Because we could. Pretty damn lame in hindsight. It’s sort of the Wal-Mart philosophy, right? Save more by buying more. Actually might mean you spend more because everything is supersized. But those unit prices dropped to the basement. Wow, look what I got for xyz dollars. Smart, right?

Now it seems the bill is coming due. And the thing about size as a yardstick for life – someone always has something bigger!!

Why Small?

Here’s my theory.

  1. We got too big. Doh!
  2. We saw environmental limits – generally, smaller is greener.
  3. Our keenest inventions are shrinking. 20th century – skyscrapers, highways, dams. 21st century  – gaming, Iphones, nano-tech and bio-tech.
  4. And then there’s this pesky never-ending down-for-the-third-count Recession that has put a strain on most everyone’s bank account. We must conserve.

In other words, small is cool. Big is ugly. Out with hummers, McMansions, and sprawl.

Now we want to be small. But… what’s small?

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Small people? Really, I am very small human – five feet and under 100 pounds. In that big rocking chair, Lily Tomlin outdoes me. In other words, small is relative. Alice in Wonderland figured that out with those magic cookies. First that room fit; then it didn’t. Next to Shaq, everyone is small.

In other words, if we can play with size so readily, does small or big really matter?

Yes, it does. It matters because we got too big, consumed too much, and now we have to craft a strategy, an image of small that means beautiful. Small that we love, small that we identify with, small that ignites our dreams.

Is it possible to dream small and believe it’s big?

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Here’s some cool small:

small cars, small apartments, small houses, small towns (I love that vid). Part of American spirit is Small Town USA. Now we are making an entirely new era of small streets, smaller houses, and certainly smaller yards with New Urbanism.

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So what is wrong with small?

There is such a thing as too small, for example those coffin hotels in Tokyo.

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There is small without purpose – this

chair’s too small; these shorts don’t fit.

Small can mean efficient. Or it can be another word for scrimping, miserly, and small mindedness.

And it can mean dying, as in a town that used to be 150 people and became two. Except the husband died; now it’s just one. And one person running a town can be a bit sad. The Town of Me.

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Too small is a lot like too big. Someone’s always going to dream something even more mini, micro, nano, quark-sized. You cannot win at this game; it’s a loser. Because the idea of “how much” is a function of deficit thinking. One pie with a missing piece; you just can never fill it up.

Welcome to Quality. Yup, it’s a value. When you say something’s better, you’re talking values. Values are one thing to you and maybe different for me; it’s what you care about, what matters to you. So you can’t say how much until you know what’s better, what you value.

If all you care about is size or quantity, then stick with bigger or smaller, how many, how few. Otherwise, let’s think about a boundless variety of delicious pies.

A lived-in fit

Now I think we have to scrap the whole idea of size. It’s not about small or big; it’s about fit. We need the best fit. And fit is more than size, it’s also of the right kind, the characteristics that suit your needs, your particular ideas of your life.

We have to think about the kind of place. Ok, we have to know how much as well, but I really want to know how well it fits, and then I can say how big or small it needs to be. Imagine a builder’s model kitchen and a boat galley do the same thing, one perhaps clumsily and the other with optimum craft. Better design creates efficiencies. How much comes after how well it suits its purpose.

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In fact, it’s not the fit on day one; it’s the lived-in fit. The fit for all seasons and uses, my good moods and bads, my favorite moments and my security gaps. The place that enlivens me and protects me from the cold cruel world. Where I have my finest and my worst moments; where I am more of myself, relaxed and inspired, a safe haven for soaring ideas. For me, a home is my outer skin that holds me and my family into one larger embrace. My lived-in place supports intimacy and freedom.

Before figuring fit, we start with our wants and needs for today and the future. Then we build to that. Rather than specifications of monster sizes or teeny tiny efficiencies, think in terms of elegance and quality, richness in purpose, what matters most.

Because I’d rather have the most elegant, sustainable home that fits my aspirations and habits and those of my family. A house of my dreams is not too small, or too big. It’s just so, a lived-in fit.

Here’s my friends who also wrote about living smaller.

Veronica Miller at Modenus, A Small Life is Good, but Slow Down to enjoy it! 
Paul Anatar at Kitchen and Residential Design
 Is Living Smaller the New Living Large?  

Richard Holdschuh at Concrete Detail, Small is Beautiful but Relativity Rules
Nick Lovelady at Cupboards Kitchen and Bath,
Is Small Really Realistic?

Rufus the dog at Dog Walk Blog,How Much Does it Cost You To Exist for One Hour? Size Matters
Becky Shankle from Eco Modernism,
Is Living Smaller the New Living Large?
Saxon Henry’s Chair Chick,
Living Small (and Getting Shagged!)

Sean Lintow’s The Homeowner’s Resource Center,Building Smaller, Is it the Next Big Thing?

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