The Tao of WAO

With over 20 years of practicing architecture, several sources have entwined to inform my approach to design:

After a lifetime of writing, the Italian author Italo Calvino prepared six topics on the properties he foresaw as most relevant to the 21st century:

  1. Lightness
  2. Quickness
  3. Exactitude
  4. Visibility
  5. Multiplicity
  6. Consistency

-Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

In Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin living room there is a plaque that reads,“The reality of the building does not consist in the roof and walls but the space within to be lived in.”– Laotse

Another version from Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching:

“Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
” – Lao Tse

Wabi-sabi is another Eastern aesthetic, meaning “wisdom of natural simplicity” in contemporary Japanese.  Perhaps more familiarly, it can mean ‘making lemonade out of lemons’ as in: “beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness… a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete… a beauty of things modest and humble… a beauty of things unconventional.” – Lenard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, & Philosophers 

And a Minnesota based furniture designer wonders about how to live a well rounded life after observing the transitory nature of the St. Paul Winter Carnival Ice Palace: “God is in the details of form. Is God also in the details of living? – Bill Stumpf, The Ice Palace that Melted Away

Seeing how buildings are most often measured by the banker’s cost, the realtor’s square footage, and the contractor’s material list reinforces my belief in Einstein’s observation “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted“.

Thus, it may be that an Architect, seeking to design a space, will create it modestly and humbly out of what is not there.