To Hold an unchanging Youth...
1 of 2 parts
by Matt Taylor
August 2000 [link]
stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up.
had taken me five years to get to the foot of these
stairs and I felt that I could get to the top in
a single leap. I was starting - at last!
sign read: Welton Becket [link] and Associates,
untrimmed oversized glass door eloquently proclaimed
the success of one of the worlds largest commercial
architectural firms. Everything was understated,
tasteful and balanced on the edge between corporate
and artful. It was June 15th, 1956. I had my first
job in architecture.
as I write this decades later, I can place myself
back at the foot of those stairs - everything returns
in a rush, the sun, the expectation and anticipation
of entering a purposeful adult world, the PROMISE of beginning a lifes work.
the years that followed, this memory remained a singular
beacon - a lodestone that reconnected me to my purpose.
A meditation that always returned me to my youth
and the sense
of life [link] I
wanted to actualize by building. That moment, me
standing there, fused everything that
I ever wanted to do in Architecture. ReMembering
now is also acknowledging years of un-built buildings all crowding to the
front of my mind and demanding release - demanding attention
from that boy who stood at the bottom of the stairs with so much
to me, was - is - a sacred
act [link]. It is not a way to earn a living [link] (a
notion I never understood) it is a way to express a
thought I was entering a world of artist-engineers
who would feel the same and teach me the way .
was entering another world, a grownup version of
the purgatory, called school, I thought had left - but had not. I did not understand this world - I
still do not. I understand it in the intellectual sense
- not with emotion - which is to understand it little,
if at all.
|To understand requires
sympathy, to understand means to make a fundamental
life-defining choice which I seem incapable of making.
I have tried - but I always fail. To understand this world for me
requires betraying a promise whose origin I do not
know but I am committed to without reservation.
piece is about that PROMISE and the various
ways it can be kept and broken. It is an attempt
to understand it - although I wonder if that is possible.
It is a documentation of how a promise like this
drives choice and the way a life plays out - for
good or bad - because of it.
June, I had just completed my third year of High
School. I had chosen Architecture for my lifes
years before [link]. I had tried every year,
for the last five, to get a summer job working in
office and this time I had succeeded. I did not know
then that I would never go back to school. That life-defining
choice was still ahead of me.
plan was to work a summer, finish High School at
night and attend the School of Architecture at Berkeley,
across the Bay from San Francisco, the coming Fall semester.
A logical but unrealistic plan. Fate was about to
intervein in a shocking way when I was to meet one
of my future teachers [link].
is, in this use of the term, is in the mind of the
beholder. I cannot say if the life that I have lead
- many would say that it is not. I can only say that
it is the result of how I solved innumerable small
problems that were created by the intersection of
what was around me and what I wanted to make [link].
was born to build. No one ever told me this - I discovered
it early on. Once I understood it, I never challenged
it. To challenge it would be like challenging life
I do not build I feel that it was a waste - it is as simple as that.
think this is true for everyone - each has some special
gift or purpose - and an open set of options of how
to respond to it.
respond creatively, many - unfortunately - do not.
They fail to sense in themselves what they are about.
They fail to see the key choices or, somehow, betray
what they know. This decision is a fundamental fork
in the road that I suspect everyone gets to at some
point. It seems to be the kind of choice that is no choice.
A dividing line between one approach to life
and another. I do not believe that it defines success
in the terms
that society grants it. It does not even define happiness
in the surface meaning of the word. I think that
it does define the deeper qualities of life - what
ChristopherAlexander calls “the quality that has no name”
the PROMISE defies all prosaic common sense
and sensibility. Following the PROMISE is
dangerous and makes you a dangerous person in the
eyes of many.
I do not
know why this is - it IS.
dream does not have to big - it may or not be useful.
It may shake the world or never be noticed. Armour
and Pam Rice [link] (CAMELOTs
Captain and First Mate) have lived a life few would
consider important - although
many, I expect, would secretly envy. They have sailed
their entire adult life. The have, also, mastered
their art in a way that few approach. They raised
a son on board who is a fine young man in a world
where successful child rearing has become a national
issue. They have, with, Gail and myself, created
the CAMELOT that sails today. They make
an environment that we and our colleagues can retreat
to and renew
ourselves in. In my mind they are very successful.
With CAMELOT, they have crafted an environment
that few architects and innkeepers can match. Has
president of Hyatt or the world's largest architectural
firm done better? They have done more - and
made a bigger splash - but have the done better?
I suspect not.
Disney [link] followed
a dream and impacted millions. Size is not the
issue. The dream is the issue and if it
is betrayed or not. One wonders if his successors
got it [link]. The quality of
the vision counts - not the scale. Balance [link] has
to be brought to the process because dreams are
dangerous and can lead
to mad things.
are many mad moments in the creative process. It
consumes you. You have to know how to get in and out
of your creations. You have to know when to
let them go as all children must some day grow up
a dream is followed, there is no guarantee, at all,
that anything useful will come of it. There is no
certainty that society will consider it important.
It may - or not - make money. It may - or not - make
you happy. Whatever, you have to follow it - or not.
There is no half way.
you do follow your quest [link] - it is almost certain that you will find yourself
deeply at odds with many around you. I did not know
this on that magical day in June. I thought that
I had ARRIVED. I thought that I was entering a world
of like-minded warriors. I thought I was to be taught
to build. I expected that much would be demanded
of me. I was ready to give. That, of course,
is the GREAT sin - giving.
was demanded but conformity. I was to discover, slowly,
painfully, that I was surrounded by 50 broken parasites
sitting at the alter of ART pretending to be its
keeper. It was a deeply disappointing lesson, and,
as the saying goes, an educational one.
problem with them is not that they took issue with my dream
- or, that theirs were different. The conflict
was that they did not have a dream - or had, in
their own eyes, betrayed it - and they openly,
bluntly, demanded that ALL such nonsense must be
given up as a condition of membership in
the club - this drafting room - that they controlled.
And, controlled it was.
under 18 years of Air
Force life [link],
military school and Jesuit High School had not prepared
me for this experience.
that I was worldly - I guess that is a common teen-age
delusion. I had no idea what the work outside of the enclaves I had lived in was like. And, it was not until years
later that I realized how high the stakes were for
these men who saw this as a contest between two words
views and that only one view could be right. I would
tread much more lightly, today, if only out of respect
for the dead and to avoid conflict that really had no potential for resolution.
is a naivety that seems to protect all young animals.
Maybe this is why we love them. They seem to have
eternal springtime and bounce in there soul and development
on their mind. I often wonder if animals tell their
offspring that it is time to grow up -
or, if we humans are the only ones. Sunshine, our
16 year old cat [in
2001], will still play with the
abandon of his kittenhood. How is it that humans
forget this? What drives so much conflict between
what is fun and graceful and serious in
life? Is it economics [link]?
does ART become something hanging, like meat, in
a gallery surrounded by guards, critics and disconnected,
passive audiences? Why isnt ART out on the
street where it matters? Why arent we living in ART?
- real Architects - ask these questions because theirs
is a practice that has to - to be successful
- fuse the act of living [link] with the act of sheltering and expressing life. There
is no place for the soul/body dichotomy here.
|IF this integration can be made is to me the essence
of the CHOICE that all of us, sooner or later, must
make. I choose the PROMISE, that if one is imaginative,
productive and attentive enough, that ART and
LIFE can be one thing.
terms of a practical answer, in relation to success -
49 years later [as
of this edit in 2005] -
the jury is still out. In terms of a personal answer
the answer is that I would not
- if given the choice again - do it any other way.
I work and travel [link],
sometimes the integration is accomplished in remarkable
are several strategies that a serious architect
can follow. One is to be born or marry rich. Another
is to find a smaller community and stay there for
decades - in time, when anyone wants a real piece
they will come to you. There are many, very good, locally successful
and unknown architects who practice this
way. Another is to become extremely public and
controversial - this sometime attracts enough attention
but usually a great deal of conflict. Some, a very few, become “stars.” I rejected all these options and it would take almost 20 years before I
found the path [link] that
I am on today. A path, that you many years I thought was taking me away from the practice of architecture. I was interested in the business of
architecture as much as the art. I wanted to do it in the
world - not in some hidden part of it nor become successful by
dent of arbitrary strangeness. I wanted it all and
I systematically refused the seductions offered by
becoming “successful” at some part of it. Often, this was intuitive - a sense
that the option was off-mission. These rejections
often offended those who were offering me their very
in my profession, at least in these early days, decided
that compromise to be
the only answer. That the ideal cannot
find physical expression. But, if not, what is architecture?
cannot go that way even if I never successfully demonstrate
the thesis that compromise is not necessary for financial
success. To me, to choose what is now called the PRACTICAL view
of life is to already lose.
seek integration is to have a chance of discovering
something and doing something worth doing.
scale on which you choose to play the game is simply
a matter of ambition, tolerance for risk and failure
the opportunities that you find along your path -
and, to a very large extent, the arena that your
particular mission puts you in.
was soon to find out that there were many who disagreed
with me - some violently. What I had thought was
simply a condition of unfocused youth and poor schooling
turned out to be central to our 1950s culture. This,
of course, was shocking to me. And alienating. And
still is frightening when I think about it.
first, I was warmly accepted into the manly world
of Architecture - it was a mans world then
and I sometimes wonder if my experience would have
been different if the mix of male/female was more
equal as it is today. I wonder - perhaps. The stories
I hear, these days, about formal critics in
architectural schools does raise questions. It seems
that scathing put downs often pass for critical thought.
Criticism, a key component of the design process,
is thus corrupted [link]. These exercises, from what I am told, are undertaken with equal enthusiasm by both male and female teachers thereby destroying another urban myth.
problems began only when I started asking questions.
I had the propensity of asking shocking questions.
Shocking, anyway, to those whom I asked. It was shocking
to me that they found them so shocking. I was to
discover, as the years passed, that the act of asking
the right question at the right time - in the right
language - WAS the essential creative act.
questions that I asked in Beckets office were
the right questions at the wrong time and in the
wrong language. My earlier life had taught me that
there is a procedure [link] for
everything so, naturally, I wanted to know how Architecture
was MADE. After all, I came here to learn.
Simple. I was to discover that architects at this
time were not interested in how architecture was
made only in how to make buildings according to the
prevalent style and dogma. The were lively clashes
between adherents of various versions of THE dogma,
but these were without substance. The House of
Intellect [rbtfBook] was
nowhere to be seen.
Form followed Function) was the outside shape and
window treatment the same on all sides of a multi story office
building no mater the direction it faced and the
different wind and sun loads? WHY were so
many buildings rectilinear - other than it was easier
to draw, and it was asserted, to build? WHY (if
buildings were designed from the inside out),
given all the different specific uses, did buildings
look so much the same? WHY is the profession
split between those who design and draw, and those
who build? Why are architecture and engineering considered
different arts? Why are drawings done over and over
when 90% of the content doesnt change from
one building to another? WHY, if they were
so right, were they not happy? This one brought down
the wrath of the entire drafting studio as I received
a lashing on the fine subjects of suffering, compromise
and listening to the wisdom of my elders.
can you draw a building successfully if you don't
know how to build one?
course the root of all these question was the issue
of INTEGRITY - and what is a SYSTEM.
And, THAT was the rub. These issues between
my questions and their answers were not about the
concrete issues themselves, the impassable
gap between us was about the frame - the paradigm [link] (a
word that I was not to learn for another 18 years).
did not know all this - I just wanted to build. Damn.
didnt know, I was challenging their choice
of how they answered the PROMISE question.
Then, one day day it all erupted. You will
never build. The words echoed throughout the
drafting room. 50 architects and draftsmen put down
their pencils to watch the confrontation.
answered, I will never build. But
what I do build, one building or many, will be without
compromise. How will you live? How
these words, a breach was created that never could
a strange way, besides defending their own choices,
they were trying to protect me. They wanted to get
me within a safe zone of the socially acceptable
to cut down on my crash and burn potential.
They failed to sway me, of course, and in the years
ahead I crashed many times. In terms of the practical
results, they were nearly right. But in terms of
everything else... well, you have to decide this
is not a matter of disliking them - I actually liked
several of them a great deal. It is that I was surrounded
by 50 dying men - men who were committing ritualistic
suicide. This was painful to see and to experience.
A handful were aware of the issue and a few were
struggling - the rest were asleep. For many, a weekend
of alcohol was the solution. I was to see this again
and again in the years ahead.
thought that I would have to start thinking my way
through these issues of architectural philosophy
myself and that, at least there was the University
of California at Berkeley coming up - there I would find my world. It was later
that I was to see the feet of clay in this idea.
I had prepared for my entry into architecture mostly
focusing in on the technical aspects of architecture.
I want to be sure that I would be useful in an office.
I assumed that the higher aspects of the art would
be mine to find, along with good mentoring, in the
offices and schools to follow. Unfortunately, I had
underestimated my education [link].
It seems I was already spoiled [link].
I had already cultivated the habit of going to the
trips were the great exception to the office regime.
This activitiy was both great fun and the most paradoxical
expereince of my whole time at the firm. The San
Francisco area had many buildings of great architectural
quality and distinction and several of us made a
habit of seeking them out on numerous Sunday afternoons.
I found my companions very different, in this setting,
than at work - as long as I didn’t press certain
issues such as suggesting we should be producing buildings
like those we were admiring. On these excursions,
and at the inevitable diners that followed, I found
my companions, intelligent, purposeful, exciting
and almost happy. In this setting, they taught me a lot. It also made
me think about setting and organization and how these conditions
effected behavior. I also wondered how they could live in
such a narrow slice of time called Sunday afternoons.
If these are your values, why not seek them
I first worked for Beckett, I did not know there
was an edge until I went over it several
times. I had not learned to define the world in terms
that made these boundaries sensible. In time, I was
to learn where the edges were but I still fell off
many times. My 25 years with MG Taylor Corporation
has been an effort, on my part, to see if there is
any room for creative accommodation between
where I can stand and where the present
rules dictate you must. There seems to be a narrow ledge upon which to stand - and work.
jury is still out on this one, also. Sometimes I
think that I am really getting somewhere. Then, I
blunder and blow something up. There are times that even the most self critical analysis fails to show me just where and how I messed this one up. I find that the old rules
are still very much in place. Very little has really
changed, in 50 years, despite our e-hyped ego and
pretensions at modernarity. I have also discovered
that different communities have their own rigid rules
of participation. Professional societies do and so does
the arts. Different countries have their rules as
do those with various levels of wealth. I grew up
in none of these. I grew up in the old air force
which is mostly gone now - it was a meritocracy to
the core [link].
My interests, as I have expanded them, have taken me across many traditional
I am “a
man without a country.” I decided, in 1975,
to make my own social place, with its own rules of
engagement, make it successful and to invite people
into this domain. With this strategy I have enjoyed some small measure successes.
will never build. I accepted their challenge.
A brave response but another thing to experience
year after year. Today, 49 years later [as
of 2005], I have never built a free standing
building of my own design, and in my own name, although
there are several on the drawing boards, today. I
have designed and built many remodels. I have built
many designs for other architects. But never my own.
The few buildings of my own design that got off paper
were executed by architects and builders who were
not sympathetic to the designs - they butchered them
at will. My best and most faithfully
executed stand-alone work, paradoxically, was when
I was hired by a Bank Board to rework another architects
building and then he did the construction drawings
and supervision. I was able to save his concept,
satisfy the Board and the architect was very pleased.
have had many happy collaborations with other designers,
architects and builders and my own experiences has
made me extremely sensitive to their individual talents
and design goals. I have saved many projects
where, working within the concept provided, I was
able to bring out the best of the idea. I have built
a number of interior environments [link] that
have made several thousand users productive and happy.
I have, slowly, started a massive change in
the concept of the workplace and what is the practice of
are a number of successful architects who express
pleasure and even some envy of my work - yet, I feel like
I have barely started and my voice - as an
artist - has not yet been heard.
want you to understand this. To me, I have not started.
My gift, as an artist, is not yet made. It
is is not understood. It is a trapped passion. It demands yet
has no expression. This hurts. It is a slow death
the days bleed away. I live in a silent, closed,
windowless world. Maybe, once or twice a year someone
who can understand what I want to do (it is not easy
to see buildings that are only on paper) will
say to me nice piece of work. This is
a creative life in an isolation chamber. Slowly,
our built work, begins to reveal some of the edges
of this inner landscape; yet, our building remains decades
behind the vision. This is the condition - not the
architectural practice, to date, has been like a
successful studio musician who works in support of
other recording artists. So far, I have not had my
own show. And, I have to face the fact that I may
never have it. There is good in everything and the
good in this condition is that I am not likely to
squander the opportunities in the work that does
come. Any building opportunity is precious to me.
in the drafting room, whatever their motive, were
not totally wrong in their assessment you see. And it all the years which followed, I have not seen a notable work produced by any of them.
strange thing is that MG Taylor’s work - which I have
considered, in architectural terms, to be a 20 year
detour - is slowly leading to a whole new kind of
architectural practice. I will never go back to the
old concept of practice - not even my youthful version
of it. Keep the vision intact and nature provides
- with a variation or two for good measure. Finding the way is heuristic - a combination of intent, a search algorithm and feedback from a very complex, and itself, changing system.
wasnt all bad in the Becket office. There
were many good days of companionship and work. There
was, however, an invisible line that could never
be crossed. The inner code of a culture not to be
Becket office was entered from Maiden Lane, off Union
Square, and stretched all the way to Post street
on the other side. It had two levels one for client,
executives and designers and another for the draftsmen.
VC Morris, [link] by
Frank Lloyd Wright was direcly across the Lane but
no one, in Beckets office, ever mentioned
it. It was as if it never existed.
one in the office ever mentioned Wright until I came
back from lunch one day with two books. I think this
was one of the first real confrontations. Its
OK to look at the pictures but don't read the words was
the opening salvo from the Chief Draftsman. What
is wrong with the words? Wright should
have died two decades ago was the answer. I
never could engage them in an intelligent conversation
about what was wrong with the words - or WHY he
should have died. Did they really mean this?
What is the implication of wishing the generally
accepted greatest practitioner of your profession
to be dead? What is implied in wishing anyone dead?
had known of Wright before going to work and seen
two of his buildings - the Hanna House was the first
[link] - and a few pictures of his work. I knew he
the Father of
Modern Architecture and the Greatest Architect
of the Century. I had never studied his work - or
read the words - until that day when I discovered In
the Nature of Materials by Henry Russell Hichcock
and The Natural House by Mr. Wright himself.
Hichcocks book showed Mr. Wrights work
from his earliest drawings up through the 1940s.
It was a revelation. Here was a man who felt like
I did and had built an astounding number of wonderful
environments. He had a PASSION for it -
a passion that seemed to be totally missing in the
office I was working in. The Natural House -
just published - was one of Wrights simplest
and clearest explications of the philosophy that
drove his work. The houses shown were astounding
- more impressive because they were modest works.
They were works of pure poetry. I would open the
books and live in them for hours.
remember that afternoon being the longest in my life
as I waited to get these books home to absorb them
in their entirety. I didn't get much sleep that night
and the next day, at work, I sensed a subtle shift
of attitude in the drafting room. It slowly became
clear to me that I had, somehow, become part of another
camp - or tribe. This was incomprehensible to me.
I thought ARCHITECTURE was our tribe.
systematic attack began on Mr. Wright [link] -
and me - and everything that he stood for and they
were afraid I might. This was not an intelligent analysis of the flaws of the work - it was laughter, a potpourri of cheep shots and a presumed discounting that there was any value there at all.
was to experience this in every office that I worked
in for the next 20 years. This was not a sober debate
on the merits of his approach and work - this was
a full scale, angry attack on the very IDEA of
it. The very existence of Wright and what he stood
for was WRONG! He was ridiculed. I found the
experience appalling, frightening and it left me
with extreme emptiness and a sense of lonely disappointment.
I could not understand why they would do this to
him - and to themselves. At various offices, I would
try different approaches ranging from full-scale
slides shows with commentary to saying nothing at
all. Even this latter approach failed. In later years
when someone found out that I had studied with the
man, the shift would happen and the attacks would
begin. Most often, my own work - or approach to it
- would do the trick. No matter how I tried, I could
not be myself and belong. The price of entry was
leaving who you are at the door.
was the TV program the ended my short career at the
Welton Beckett Office. Lloyd Conrich, an architect
friend and sponsor called me one day Have you
ever been a Boy Scout? For One day. What
Happened? We parted company by mutual
consent. Oh, how would you like to be
a Boy Scout again for one more day? Lloyd was
a big supporter of the Scouts in the Bay Area and
it seemed that there was no one who had earned his
merit badge in Architecture. There was a
television program that featured a Scout and his
badge program each week. It was time for Architecture
and no Scout - crises! Was I aware of the program
and could I do it? Sure. As it
turned out, years before, when I first became interested
in Architecture, I had found the program and had
worked my way through [link] the
entire thing as part of my self-tutoring. It was
a very good program and I learned a great amount
from it. All that was required was a uniform and
a project. Do you have a project? It
so happened that I did. The Scouts supplied the uniform.
to part 2: The Tower on TV, The Professor,
Real Estate Lady, and Nick’s
To The Second Decade
voice of this document:
VISION STRATEGY EVALUATE
January 1, 1999
July 3, 2005
• 20050703.456701.mt •
this document is about 98% finished
Taylor 1979, 2000, 2001, 2005