Architecture, love, and the reality of temporality

TFIOS book cover | Credit: A Beautiful Mess blog
TFIOS book cover | Credit: A Beautiful Mess blog

The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.  The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything.  He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox. –Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars

This summer has been a whirlwind of school work mostly (took 6 Gen. Ed credits for summer school hehe) but I’ve also done a bit of running, cooking, and reading. Having just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars (2 years after everyone else), I was inspired to reflect on the issue of temporality.

TL;DR Long blog post essay about the reality of temporality in architecture and love based on TFIOS

 It is an interesting book and I’ll definitely give it a 4/5 stars. The romance between Hazel and Augustus (Gus), the main characters, did seem a bit stiff especially in the beginning.  MAJOR SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): Gus uses his Wish (a cancer perk reserved for really sick cancer patients whereby a generous group of Genies grant them a wish) to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet her (and eventually their) favorite author, Van Houten, with the possibility that they might fall in love (Hazel and Gus not Hazel and Van Houten.)  Before that, I suppose Gus was already quickly infatuated with Hazel while Hazel was more reserved and hesitant for she figured she was a grenade, a ticking time bomb.

 The most interesting part of the book was not Hazel and Gus’s romance, but the concept and theme behind death. 

 One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Fahrenheit 451.  Ray Bradbury wrote

 “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. 


It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” 

To some extent, it still is my favorite quote.  It romanticizes living, as if we live to make a difference, to touch something, to leave our mark.  To be a gardener, not just someone who cuts grass.  But Green’s idea of living is much more true: Gus has grand plans to live and die honorably, and this is most evidently seen when Gus plays video games, where he regularly jumps in to save children (or even Hazel’s character) from bombs, but thus losing his life in the process.  He wants to be grand, to be remembered.

Is this any different from architecture? We have grand ideas, grand ambitions of how to change the world—leaving a great architectural legacy that will immortalize us.  We can’t live forever, but we expect our buildings to.  But maybe in 50, 100, 2000 years, what will happen to this “legacy” of ours?  We have no guarantee that it will not be demolished (or repurposed) to make way for the needs of the present or in other words, our future.

Say if our work still stand years from now.  Does this really immortalize us?  What will be remembered of us?  Will anyone remember we used to wake up early on the weekends to watch Sunday cartoons or that quirky habit of ours, where our eye does this weird twitch when we laugh?  Will anyone remember we used to cherish solace walks through the woods alone to clear our minds?  We will be remembered for nothing but our name, which does not immortalize us; it just leaves a bit of us to be found for generations, and paints us in a certain way—for the great marvel we “made.”

“Nothing immortalizes anyone,” Green philosophized.

So for many, if not all of us, we are quite ordinary.  But our culture emphasizes grandiose wonders, or as Green puts it “worships celebrity and the purportedly extraordinary.”  We are all temporary, we are all ordinary.  But being temporary does not mean we are meaningless.  Even if we are temporary—which is a reality—we have touched something or someone in some way.  It may not be possible to leave a “legacy” but it doesn’t mean we don’t matter.

Maybe that is how we need to view architecture… that as architects, we can be okay without leaving a “legacy” but we still want to be able to make a difference even if we’re only like a hand inside a water bucket.  That once the hand pulls away, the hole that remains is how much we’ll leave behind. 

We should be okay with being homogenized without trying to make our name one of a kind.  I’m not a big of a Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid for the same reasons—their style is most definitely unique, but it doesn’t have a culture to it; it wears the city aggressively, almost as if the architects are trying to make a statement about themselves.  Rather than let the building serve the community, the community serves it.

And with the same lens we need to view love and friendships, that sometimes there is no forever.  Sometimes it may be for 70 years, or 20 years, or 3 dates.  Sometimes someone passes away, or loves someone else, or felt that the two of you were not the best match.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t matter.