Balancing Optimism, Waste, and the Newly Improved American Dream #letsblogoff

The current #letsblogoff asks: Is there a reason to be optimistic?

I have heard it said: be personally optimistic and globally pessimistic. I get that. My best life is still ahead of me and my familys working through these tough times. That makes me personally optimistic.

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Global situations strike me as less rosy. In the mid 1970s, Linus Pauling told me and my eager college-mates ten ways people might destroy the planet. Whoa, we were shocked! He started with nuclear weapons. Then I recall over-population, hunger, water, trash – really? Death by waste?

I had never thought like this. It sounded epic. And I took it to heart. From that day forward, I understood the fact that we live in catastrophic times. Disasters seem to occur with increasing frequency.  

How to stay optimistic despite constant threats? To me, that’s the heart of it.

American Dreamers!

What times were worse than the Great Depression? Financial woes at all levels, joblessness, shanty towns, even the weather pitched in with the Dust Bowl. That’s when we invented the idea of the American Dream. We needed a strong dose of optimism.

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Actually, the American Dream contains two parts, moral and material. We believe that all men are created equal, our moral thread of egalitarianism. And we believe that anyone can win big, from rags to riches, the Horatio Algiers story. We love the underdog, success through hard work and thrift, the puritan work ethic.

The American Dream embraces opportunity and reshaped America as a nation of hopes and dreams. It is after all, the first country to make “the pursuit of happiness” a constitutional right.

Most importantly, the American Dream seeded the largest middle class in history. After nearly 80 years, it’s essentially a national motto.

American Nightmares 

Over decades of growth and prosperity, we narrowed the definition to “keeping up with the Jones.” A new home, new car, new tech, trips to Disney World. More things, more consumer debt, boom. The Dream becomes Buy Stuff. No Way.

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Now the American Dream has been boiled down into one thing: owning a home.

If you narrow your definition to just one idea, and then it becomes more difficult, the entire idea is destroyed. In other words, the house becomes the dream becomes the country. Lose your house and you lose your sense of identity.

The American Dream is not merely home ownership. That’s a total rip-off. We lose the gist, the heart and soul of it. We are stuck on materialism without the moral thread, the hope and optimism. That’s not the dream, that’s imbalanced, a nightmare.

American Dream ReShaped

Long before the idea of the A.D., Americans deeply understood hope and equality. We had imagination. And we had confidence. I’m not willing to live without those.

So let’s imagine: What do you do with the highest GDP in the world?

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You educate everyone, you feed, clothe and house us all, and make damn sure we have health care and are not overloaded with debt. You wipe out poverty, declare a war on crime and make peace with the rest of the world.

More than that, you leave a better place for future generations, a clean and vigorous environment with bright green, livable cities. And invest continually in new ideas, inventions, innovations that improve quality of life and feeds commerce and jobs. That’s the path to long-term prosperity and opportunities.

Our dream needs to emphasize social and environmental goodover materialism and hope over hate and fear. And assume responsibility for our neighbors. We are in this together. Not just in the US, but the global community. 

It’s not just an American Dream; it’s a World Dream.

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Mahatma Gandhi said: “Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”

To me, that’s optimism, the belief you can make dreams into reality. 

What’s optimism for you? How do you make your dreams become reality?

Here’s some of my favorite people’s thoughts on optimism for #letsblogoff.

Images: Music video: Balance by Aceyalone; House on Milwaukee Apt Finders/Prowess R/E blog; “God Bless America” by Seward Johnson; urban farming on Time Magazine; India children by Vincent Desjardin on Flickr cc; trash by Darch Norman on Flickr cc 

 

Note to America: #Architecture and the Future Matter #design #worldexpo


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The Biosphere: A powerful statement of the future

Recently Bing featured a stunning image of Buckminster Fuller ’s design for the US Pavilion at the 1967 World’s Exposition in Montreal. When I opened it, I literally gasped; the still futuristic image seemed to float above normal terrain. The Biosphere put a new stamp on the future and epitomized the Space Age.

Fuller joined the forces of architecture, engineering, and technology to express a new way of living. And through his genius, he inspired a generation of Americans; in fact, of the world. Bravo, Mr. Fuller!

USA Pavilion for the 2010 World Expo


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Fast forward to today, the

US Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai featured two wings in the shape of leaves, joined by a cone. What is that? The makers call it an eagle. Huh? A logo made into a building? No strong statement of design, environmentalism, or humanitarianism comes to mind.

What does it stand for? a design-numb Corporate America. (yes, some US corps understand good design; MIA here.)

This structure looks like a poor stand-in for what should have been an image of the American Dream, an architecture of the future. Where is the hope, the vision, the statement of who we are as a people or where we are going?

No one had any doubt that America led the world in innovation in 1967. If anyone is looking to us for vision or inspiration based on the 2010 American pavilion in Shanghai, they would be severely disappointed.

Has that day of 1967 passed?

If you think that the age of inspiring world expo pavilions has fizzled into the history pages, just examine the UK Seed Cathedral pavilion or the Swiss and Spanish pavilions.


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Yes, it’s true; I have a nearly delirious case of pavilion envy. Those buildings are remarkable! They not only sing the praises of the architects and the countries; they offer a glimpse of what we might experience down the road.

In other words, the reason we build these outlandish structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle is to influence and shape things yet to come. That’s the whole purpose. To shine a bright light on the path to the future. And to inspire through the power of that vision.

Come On, America

Hey Americans, if we think that this average architectural statement offers the best of the best, we should be very worried. Because boxes shaped like leaves and cones never moved anybody to dream, much less to act. That disappoints me; no, it really makes me mad. The people that built this pavilion are saying – nothing’s new, nothing special’s going to happen, it’s just more of the same. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We are living in one of the most enthralling, mind-numbing, exuberant times in history, a virtual windfall of daily discoveries. Yet without an urgency to design the future, to visualize the world ahead, to roll the dice on a seemingly impossible idea, we are already dead. We lose our capacity to aspire, transcend ordinary life, and stretch our imagination.


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We can do better. Look at Jeanne Gang’s

Aqua Tower, Holl’s Nelson-Atkins Museum Addition, Bohlin Cywinski’s Apple Pavilion – all capture the spirit of our future selves. While there’s no such thing as one true American architecture, these buildings clearly express visionary futures designed by exceptional American architects for forward thinking clients.

Maybe the burden of “American Pavilion” confused some literal minded deciders. “We’ll make a building like an eagle. That’s American.” Pshaw. Our standards for excellence, our design aspirations, must surely seek a higher standard.


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Architecture Futures

We need a pavilion that dares to venture beyond sure thing; explores crevices of materials and shapes never seen; surprises, no, it bamboozles us with its energy. It’s a revelation. From that moment on, our lives are changed immeasurably; we see the world through new eyes.

Next expo, let’s build architecture that matters, that transports us to the future, stretches us beyond the ordinary, and willingly risks everything to do it. In fact, that capacity to dream – unforgettable, life-changing dreams – proves we have a future. 

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Images: Biosphere on Montreal Attractions, USA Pavilion, Swiss and Spanish Pavilions on ArchDaily, Aqua Tower and Nelson-Atkins on New Yorker, Apple on Galinsky.