The ArchiTalks theme this month required some reflection. In terms of major discoveries in my development and career as an architect, I don’t really think in terms of surprise
revelations. As with projects during my 20 plus years, typically the path is long and full of hard work and coordination with others.
I do, however, recall a poignant moment I experienced in my first year at school.
First Year was a bit of a struggle for me. I had coasted through high school, really. I was in the top 2% of my class of 300, and never really had to try that hard. At least not like I had to in college. I worked, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t know what work was until architecture school. Design Studio was a real adjustment. I initially applied the same worth ethic in that class as I had in high school classes. I was always there and I always did what was asked. But never more. And in architecture school, that is only good enough for a B, B- maybe. Sometimes a C+. Along with all my other classes, I was still able to scrape together decent grades for the first semester. But as Design Studio was approximately one-third of your credit load, and approximately two-thirds of all the work you had to do, I was just fair to middling in my class. We started out with a class of 75 freshman students, and as our class shrank very quickly to about 60 that first semester (due to kids changing majors), I was in the bottom half of the remaining class at that point.
|This is from a later trip, thus the leaves.|
In either March or April of the second semester, the entire class that remained took a trip to Fallingwater. We loaded up three or four blue Penn State vans, full of 18 year olds and drove the three hours to Mill Run, PA. It was pretty dreary weather, as Western PA tends to be in early spring. There weren’t too many leaves on the trees yet either. In spite of all that, we were about to take over the most famous private residence in the entire world. I didn’t know it yet but it would change my attitude, and my life.
|The Money Shot|
Our group pretty much had the run of the place. As I recall we had almost unlimited access. Most people have that one “money shot” looking up at the cantilevers from the water in their mind when they think of Fallingwater. And while that was amazing to see for the first time, my moment came in a much more secluded and private location. But you can imagine, 18 year olds set loose on the grounds was bound to unleash some shenanigans. Kids were all over the stream bed, in the water. I distinctly remember one girl had a white T-shirt on and, well, she got herself soaked. And inside, had I been a docent that day, I would have been popping Maalox, afraid some kid would get mud on the original rugs or cushions or something. Aspects of the interior were certainly dated, like the kitchen appliances at the time, but I was in a building unlike I had ever been before. This was architecture. I don’t think I had ever experienced it before. I had hardly been anywhere before, let alone one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. Nearly everything you saw, touched, heard or smelled seemed to be orchestrated. How the floor bled out of the boulders forming the fireplace and spilled outside seamlessly. How the corner windows melted away to provide unobstructed view of the exterior. How that one beam went out of its way to allow a tree to grow through the trellis. How that one desk has a crescent cut out of it to allow the casement window to open.
As the day wore on, I made my way down those stairs that literally ended at the water. I don’t know if Edgar Kaufmann ever used that platform at the bottom to go swimming, but it doesn’t matter. I had my moment right there. I got it. Architecture is not about physics or calculations or drawing straight lines. It isn’t even about getting good grades. Architecture affects human emotion. That is the point. And everything I did in school after that changed.