My Teachers

How They Taught Me
An Essay on Influence

Part One of Three

“Nobody can be saved from anything, unless they save themselves. It is hopeless doing things for people - it is often very dangerous indeed to do things at all - and the only thing worth doing for the race is to increase its stock of ideas. Then, if you make available a larger stock, the people are at liberty to help themselves from out of it. By this process the means of improvement is offered, to be accepted or rejected freely, and there is faint hope of progress in the course of the millennia. Such is the business of the philosopher, to open new ideas. It is nor his business to impose them on people.”

“Your did not tell me this before.”

“Why not?”

“You have egged me into doing things during all my life... The chivalry and the round table which you made me invent, what were these but efforts to save people, and to get things done?”

“They were ideas,” said the philosopher firmly,“ rudimentary ideas. All thought, in its early stages, begins in action. The actions which you have been wading through have been ideas, clumsy ones of course, but they had to be established as a foundation before we could begin to think in earnest. You have been teaching man to think in action. Now it is time to think in our heads.”

“So my round table was not a failure - master?”

“Certainly not. It was an experiment.”

T.H. White

The Book of Merlyn


There is an old saying that when the student is ready the master will appear. This is true enough. We all learn from each other, of course, and this process goes on all of our life - however, there is a special kind of learning that happens when the right teacher comes into your life at the right time and shakes the foundations of both your intellectual and emotional constructs.


Here, I am concerned with that specific category of learning: seminal learning that causes a shift in perspective that forever alters one’s point of view and subsequent actions. It is the people that brought these gifts that we all remember above all others. It is not that their work was necessarily the most superior or that even we did not learn, at times, more from others - it is that a certain time and place they changed our world.


For most of us, these catalytic learning experiences more often happen early in life. Regular and important learning goes on forever but each piece is built upon earlier foundations. However, one of the most highly regarded attributes of a true learner is found in those that can continue to make fundamental discoveries and mental shifts throughout their lifetime. Myself, I experienced a series of profound change periods - each on propelled me into an entirely new mental space and practice focus. Even so, there is such a thing as a foundation from which all subsequent thoughts are built and - when we think of our teachers - we honor those who brought these fundamental insights to us and helped us build the base from which all that we are evolved.


Each, of those profiled below, caused this kind of shift in me. Some I knew. Some I learned only from their works and writings. Some I studied extensively. Others, taught me a momentary flash and were gone. Each came into my life at a critical moment and left their mark.


This is divergent group - many would not do well with the others. I could help them here as one of the things I learned from them - as a sum - is that different ideas do not have to be perfectly resolved. This is consistent with my quest and basic mental attitude: what is useful to me is far more important than that which is, in theory, true. Of course, I work to resolve these differences and build a coherent world view. It is, to me, the information contained in the difference that is the importance - what is learned by the process of integration is the most important - not the “purity” of the intellectual construct.


These teachers are special to me. Each is held in my memory in context of a time and place - a set of circumstances. There is a flavor in our continuing “dialog” that, even today, stems from when we first met. What I learned from each of them is embodied in what I did, with what they taught me, in the context of the issues I faced and work I was doing at the time. My ongoing relationship with these teachers, is the process of constant reassessment and renewal.


These teachers are distinct from the many others I learned a great deal from but who merely extended where I always was. Within the group of special teachers, there is a smaller select group - those that became my master(s). Again, this does not imply they were the “best” of the lot. It means that they held this relationship with me because who they were and who I was at the moment. One can have only a few “masters” - and it is important that one does. It is the masters [link] that teach (at least for you) in a totally unique way and it comes from who they are as much as from what they know or did. Once this relationship is established it never ends. Of all, Frank Lloyd Wright was my master. He is with me, today - a constant presence. I actually learned more architecture - in the technical sense - from Bruce Golf (whom I dearly love) and I have more empathy with Schindler, but it is Wright who lives in me the most. I do not believe that either the apprentice or the master have a choice in this relationship - it is a complex chemistry and it is or it is not.

As I introduce you to my teachers, I will attempt to put them in the time and place when they first impacted me. This is not a systematic review of their work or it’s importance. That is an exercise for another time and place. This is an intimate story of those moments when a spark flashed and I changed forever.


Those Who Inspired and Taught me...



The order is alphabetical. There is no attempt to “rank” the importance of each contribution. I think this is impossible, risky and dangerous.


You will observe, as your read, that there were periods in which I was clearly more in a learning mode and susceptible to influence and there were times when I was doing and less open to change. This is an important insight to both learning and the creative process [link] that plays not only on the scale of a lifetime but on many levels down to individual projects.


One’s management of this “open/close” sequence is a critical skill necessary to living a creative life. It is also difficult to achieve in our predominate social systems.


The issue of “influence” is an important one. It is often confused with domination. It is often thought of in pejorative terms as if those who had a master have no “creativity” of their own. The answer to this is simple: it is a modal issue. To learn you must submit; to do you my assert. The shift between the two modes is accomplished by applied thought, integration and action. This is why Gail and I have held that learning and creativity are, essentially, the same process - one is aimed inward (learning) the other outward (creating).


You cannot learn unless you let the “new” in without reservation. That which is now “in” will be of little value until it is challenged (from inside), developed, integrated and used in a new way.


Those I consider my teachers influenced me. I let them do this by a conscious act of subordination. I became their student - and remain so. I then (and now), asserted my experience, personality and creative voice to apply what I learned. This is a continuous, iterative process. It is self-aware and systematic. It is appreciative - not dogmatic. Some one who has never submitted to a master has never turned over their OS for an upgrade; someone who has never remade a Master’s teaching into something new has never used the OS for something other than a text editor. It takes both experiences to learn.


It takes a certain chemistry between a teacher and a student for a true learning experience to happen. There also has to be a certain set, circumstance and place. Because Wright became my master does not make him the best architect or teacher - he was the best for me at that time. This is a complex issue and finding the right teacher requires a certain skill in the art of heuristic searching. Many great teachers are not even the best in their profession or even well known. And, all great teachers require equally “great” - at least diligent - students.

There are many who would have been my teacher if I had read or met them earlier. By the time I did, I had already covered the territory. Consequently, I did learn from their work but only as an extension of what I knew - a filling in. The same is true of many that I could have taught had we passed paths at an earlier time. By the time we did, they had set their course so to speak. I can help them along it but not fundamentally effect it. These become candidates for collaboration which is another subject that will be treated elsewhere.


Alfred North Whitehead



Peak period of influence: 1974 - 1979.

Whitehead taught me what philosophy was for. Rand taught be what it was.

Whitehead said that the purpose of philosophy was not to prove something but to make an identity that someone can compare to their experience and know that the distinction is useful. This “non-combative” definition of the role of philosophy startled me.

When I read whitehead in the early 70s, I found this attitude very liberating. It helped me to move from trying to get it theoretically right to usefully built. I was impressed that such a careful and meticulous thinker knew the limits of his field and, thus, the best (kind of) application for it.

He taught me how the Explain E, in the 5 Es of Education, works. Make an Identity. This is a way of looking at what you experienced. Use the insight but don’t get lost in the dogma. It does not and can not be “proven” except in a tightly bound way employing logic and careful observation. The formal distinctions will always be narrower than the reality.


Significant concepts: Role of philosophy •

Recommended Works:



Alvin Toffler



Peak period of influence: 1971 - 1983.

Toffler introduced me to the future. Until Toffler, I had a good sense of the future and the change process - and the rate of it. He taught me that it was a subject of study and systematic thought can reap benefits. By example, he encouraged me to put my ideas about a better future out in the “market place.”

His work on “Ad-Hocracy” was greatly influential in my thinking about alternative organizational schema's. The opened the door to my thinking about network organizations and, ultimately, ValueWebs.

It was Toffler, along with Brand and Boulding (and others, of course) that stimulated me, in the early 1970s, to look beyond architecture to larger social, economic issues. From his work, I somehow derived the idea that social structures were subject to design and that better processes could be made.

Given where I was at this period in my life, this insight was –lifesaving.” It opened the path to my work of the last 25 years.


Significant concepts: Future Shock • Ad-hocracy • Power Shift • New Economy •

Recommended Works:



Ayn Rand



Peak period of influence: 1956 - 1968.

Ayn Rand Taught me what philosophy was. She taught me that passion was essential to work. She was, also, a great artist in almost total “control” of her medium.

I learned as much about architecture from Rand as from any other source. Not from “ Fountainhead” - from “Atlas Shrugged” by studying the structure of the piece and the way she used words to bring abstract ideas to concrete life. From her I learned how denotation and connotation can be used to transform an abstract idea into a form that clearly expresses it.

Rand demanded consistency between belief and actions - she rejected the “soul/body dichotomy.” In the early 50s, these were fresh words in a work world where compromise was offered as a professional value and a practical necessity. By giving me a vision of something else - and the hope that it could be accomplished - she saved my life.

Rand really expected things to be better - she passed that one to me. I still expect it to be better even though is most likely the greatest cause of conflict that I experience. I am completely over the top on this issue; if things cannot be better, I do not want to play in that game. I will not compromise here.


Significant concepts: Definition of Art • Identity of Free Enterprise as a Moral Issue •

Recommended Works: The Fountainhead • Atlas Shrugged • We The Living;



Bruce Goff



Peak period of influence: 1958 - 1961 - Ongoing.

Bruce taught me the mechanics of architectural theory. He was a wonderful teacher - perhaps the best.

He also demonstrated that you can be a great architect without being an egomaniac - something the rest of us are still working on.

Bruce liberated me from architectural dogma. I spent a week with him in 1959 and it was the most successful period of study I had experienced to that date - and maybe since. He introduced me to Gaudi’s work, the relationship between music, architecture, art, philosophy and the wide variety of ways to express ideas.

With Goff as a guide, I started to explore - my work that followed my time with him shows two things: a dramatic increase in my skill in handeling architecural elements and a much greater level of experiment.


Significant concepts:

Recommended Works:




Bucky Fuller



Peak period of influence: 1974 - 1978 - Ongoing

Bucky taught me how to see a creative life within a social context and encouraged me to provide questions and programs - not answers. He demonstrated that a single individual could make a massive influence by simply staying on course and focusing on producing working prototypes of demonstrable value.

He is noted for his discoveries and inventions but it is experiment B that most taught me and influenced my life. Reading Bucky in the early 70’s caused me to change course in my work more than any other single influence.

His notion of “anticipatory design” had a profound impact on me at a time when I was trying to put my work in time and place. His seamless integration between philosophy and design and his dictum to “change the environment - not people,” forced me to shift my attention to what goes on inside what I build - the process of use became my major focus.

I was sitting in an airport with Bucky in the mid 70’s and we were talking about his idea of a housing service industry and the problems associated with it. Suddenly, he turned to me and said “you... you will build my work. I will not, but you will.” I don’t know how many other young designer-builders he said that to, but that is not the point. I took it as a charge. Bucky knew he had run out of time and that the conditions necessary for a housing industry were not going to materialize in his lifetime. I took what he had said not as a recognition but as an obligation to see that those ideas that he stewarded would continue to be stewarded after him. The vision has be kept alive until it can be made real. The option always remains as long as the vision is kept alive.


Significant concepts: Anticipartory Design Science •

Recommended Works: Ideas and IntegritiesUtopia Or OblivionSynergetics



Bud Gilmore



Peak period of influence: 1964 - 1971.

I was a very smart machine until I met Bud. He started me down the path of becoming a human being. It was not an easy process - nor a kind one.

It was not that I was not self aware before working with him - it was that I was not aware of being self aware - and what that implied. Bud got me inside my own mind. He also taught me what science was about.


Significant concepts:

Recommended Works:




C.S. Forrester



Peak period of influence: 1950 - 1955.

I met C.S. Forrester in 1953. He taught me how to “get HERE from THERE.” He also provided me with a wonderful hero to admire, as a young boy, in the form of Captain Horatio Hornblower. Perhaps more important than all, he spent a day with me when I was still young, treating me as a peer, in dialog about his life’s work. I learned a great day about the design process from him and I learned that successful people are still human and could be reached - that they wanted to be reached.

Forrester also had a cat that was one of the most accomplished tricksters on the planet. I decided that anyone who could live with that cat was my kind of person.

Forrester’s work allowed me, as a boy, to escape the negative consequences I was “trapped” in and to explore another world with a hero who acted with great ingenuity and courage.


Significant concepts:

Recommended Works: The African Queen



Douglas Hofstadter



Peak period of influence: 1979 - 1983.

Hofstadter demonstrated that the kind of synthesis thinking I was working on could be done and could be accepted in both academic circles and in popular publication. His work is insightful, playful and leads to serious thought and consequences.


Significant concepts: Recursion and iteration • “Strange Loops” •

Recommended Works: Godel Escher Bach



Frank Lloyd Wright



Peak period of influence: 1956 - 1970 - ongoing.

Frank Lloyd Wright was Welsh - and a Druid to the core. He taught by example and by doing.

I did not get my concept of architecture from Mr. Wright - I developed that in the years before I became aware of his work. I actually leaned more technique from Bruce Goff. I related more with Rudolf Schidnler... It was Frank Lloyd Wright, however, that was and remains my master.

It is not easy to identify the quality that makes this relationship what it is. A relationship that exists, today, 42 years after Wright died. I did not know the man that well in life - in the usual sense of the word. I was not a friend, a confident or even a colleague. We had only a few private conversations and perhaps a dozen interactions involving other people. I was at Taliesin less than a year. I learned more by independent study of his works than he ever taught me directly.

Yet, today, I can feel his presence as strongly as I can most people when they are in the room with me. There is an essence that cannot be ignored or denied. This goes beyond the practice of architecture - it permeates everything that I do. This connection has continued to grow - it is far stronger now than when I was actually with him.

In art, it is possible to embedd the essence of one work or movement into another. It is a matter of knowing the materials and integrating them appropriately. This is why is is possible to successfully build a modern building next to a traditional one with doing violence to either. Integration is not accomplished on the “thing” level - it is accomplished on the level of idea and essence. This is how the relationship between myself and Wright is made.

He taught me by getting in to me. He impressed me. His OS is part of mine.

My work bears only a superficial resemblance to his - this has always been so, 42 years ago to now. Some pieces more or less resemble his - some derive from one of his ideas. In architecture as in music, it is common to use and reuse and reference other works. However, I use what I learned from him in a deeper way. It is not the style but the principles making the style that are important. What makes architecture work is not to be confused with idiom which stems from a personal perspective and the means of a time. What makes architecture work is the intrinsic quality “without a name” that Christopher Alexander talks about.


Significant concepts: Concept of Organic (natural) architecture • Architecture as expression of a “way of Life” •

Recommended Works:



Freeman Dyson



Peak period of influence: 1984 - 1990.

Dyson helped me think about “big” problems. His thinking is precise and practical and ranges, literally, to the Stars and thinking about the energy use of whole solar systems. It is difficult to remain provincial when you are thinking this way. It also puts day-to-day work in perspective.


Significant concepts: Dyson Spheres •

Recommended Works:



Gail Taylor



Peak period of influence: 1976 - 1990 - ongoing.

Gail helped me become the minimally socially acceptable person that I am today. She brought her concept of Group Genius to our work. This set a context for what I had experienced in construction and co-design in architecture and made it possible for me to work the theory of mind on many levels of recursion.


Significant concepts: Group Genius •

Recommended Works:



Herb Green



Peak period of influence: 1987 - 1990.

The whole idea of Armature as a concept was, as far as I know, developed and matured by Herb greene. It is a brilliant insight that so far has not been fully exploited. Herb’s work forcefully brought home to me the evolutionary aspect of a building over time. This concept was reinforced by getting and working on CAMELOT at the same time that I discoveredBuilding To Last.


Significant concepts: Armature •

Recommended Works: Building To Last - Architecture As An Ongoing Art



Jane Jacobs



Peak period of influence: 1971 - 1995 - ongoing.

Jane Jacobs can take all the old data and come up with an entire new (and better) answer. Her work on the City and the economy of cities is seminal. It made me think about the economics of architecture in an entirely new way.

It can be truly said that before I read Jacobs I never though of economics and architecture together. Since reading her, the economics of a building are integral to the concept - from the Domicile concept to my own Bay Area Studio.

Jacobs has just published a new book “The Nature of Economies.”

I find Jane to be one of the most delightful thinkers of our era. Her perspective is always fresh, full of insight and her work brilliant. And, she has persistently focused on a set of key issues that are critical to environment and economy.


Significant concepts: Cites birthed agriculture - not visa versa • Cites as the source of wealth in an economy • The ability to create a replacement economy is key to long term viability •

Recommended Works: Cities and the Wealth of Nations


GoTo: part 2 of 3


Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
March 3, 1999


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posted March 3, 1999

revised March 14, 2002
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(note: this document is about 60% finished)

copyright© Matt Taylor 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002

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