The Architecture of Life: Designing and Building a Nation IV

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Monday, February 11, 2008

Designing and Building a Nation IV

Obama's Vision vs Clinton's "How To"

(Part of a series of related posts - First One here)

Much has changed in the race for the Presidency since my last post .

Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are now neck and neck in the delegate race...and the fickle but much desired "momentum" seems to be shifting to the candidate who is touting change and "vision," and away from the candidate who is promoting experience.

Which gives me the perfect chance to talk about the advantages of beginning a design process by seeking to understand the "vision" of a prospective client.

Though it may be presumptuous, I would suggest that the approach to architecture and interior design promoted on this blog in some ways suggests how "Barack Obama" might approach designing a home if he were to switch careers.

The methods I suggest are subject to many of the same criticisms made by Hilary Clinton and her supporters against Obama, and exhibit many of the same strengths of the ideology and tone of Mr. Obama's campaign for President.

For instance, Hilary points out fairly that Barack does not have her experience in national and international affairs. She implies he is naive and does not have the "how to" skills to get the job done properly.

Needless to say, there are many who suggest that the practice of seeking design criteria from the heads and hearts of your clients - particularly from their subconscious or emotional response - is similarly untested.

Hilary rightly warns that designing and building a nation is a project of profound importance - that it is complex, fraught with difficulty and full of risk - and therefore that sticking to tried and true methods is the best course.

Similarly, making major changes to a home involves critically important decisions, for many people the most important financial decisions of their lives. Such projects are often very complicated, and there is no question that the experience of those who "lead" the process matters a great deal.

Further, there are plenty of "tried and true" methods used in everyday architectural practice, and despite their limitations (and there are many), they do indeed have a proven track record.

So in both cases, there are legitimate arguments against the ideas of the agents of change.

Change is risky. Change can cause upheaval and disruption. Change requires people to learn new things, take chances, alter the habits with which they have grown comfortable, and in the end...change does not necessarily guarantee a better result.

So given that, why do so many people in America seem so eager for it?

Because they are not happy with the status quo.

The pundits always have a ready list of labels for why not - the state of the economy, the state of our various military adventures, the state of the environment, the state of social and religious values, the state of our civil liberties - but in truth, it is mostly about the state of our "feelings."

People simply don't feel happy, safe and secure. They are in a state of dissatisfaction because they feel anxious and threatened by how they perceive the state of the nation.

So these united "states" of being are making them feel uncomfortable - and when people feel uncomfortable for long periods of time - they get restless and want change.

The same thing happens to homeowners.

Americans in particular have always had a bad case of "greener pastures" syndrome when it comes to their homes. And when asked why - they also have a list of reasons why - but the real reasons often come down to they are just restless in their lives and want change.

And they make those changes in incredible numbers. Real estate, residential construction and home improvement constitute the biggest sector of the national economy outside of government. Just follow the money if you want to see where our priorities lie.

The entire sub-prime mortgage crisis is a testament to the fact that people will take almost any risk to acquire or upgrade a home.

And why? Because they think if they change their living circumstances, it will change their lives for the better.

And how will they know when that happens?

By how they feel. They know their lives are better when they feel that way. And changing your living space can make you feel better simply because your environment is least, for a while.

But Hilary would say creating lasting change requires knowing "how to" design and built a nation. She would say vision is all well and good, but if you don't know how to implement it, your efforts will be for naught.

So let's talk vision...and its ingredients.

Barack Obama's vision is one of hope. But the version of "hope" he is promoting "will not be easy." His definition of hope is not some insubstantial "dream," but a compass for action over time.

What he is selling is not just the possibility of a better America, but the truth that is will take sacrifice, intention and communal will applied consistently for years and years.

That is what makes his message so powerful.

After paying a lot of attention to him over the last few months I have come to the opinion that he could not have accomplished the near impossible task of bringing his "hope" of becoming President so close to fruition if his vision was not sincere.

People can smell insincerity in their politicians these days. We are cynical and suspicious. We assume anyone running for office is at the least, self interested...and possibly corrupt.

So Barack Obama is a surprise. He introduces new phenomena in the design and building project we call America - vision tinged with frankness - and we are starved for it.

It also suggests that he has mastered a lot of the "how to" of politics.

So what can we learn from Barack's incredible rise that you and I can apply to our own projects?

First, that you must begin with a clear vision. If you do not know your destination, you are likely to get lost in your campaign for a fitting home when things get tough.

Second, that "dreams" are always attacked by the status quo. If you are a design professional, you will have to overcome the cynicism and attacks of those in your own profession.

If you are someone intent on creating a house that "feels like a home," you must overcome the uninformed voices of of the status quo posturing as rationality and reason.

Those voices might be coming from your mate, the professionals you might hire, your friends and neighbors, or the pundits of real estate and home improvement - but one thing is for sure - your vision must withstand them. And you must have the determination and will to turn your vision into reality.

No one else will supply it.

Now let us look at the same issue from Hilary's point of view. I like Hilary and think like most people whose political views are to the left of Genghis Khan, that she would make an effective president.

But she has a "how to" approach to government. She is trapped by her own competence and experience. Despite her progressive agenda, she is an agent of the status quo.

And with that as her tool kit, she cannot possibly set a new course for America except in the context of the sad legacy of last administration.

And "different and smarter than last bunch of idiots" is not a recipe for transformational change.

It is not "outside the box." It is a reaction against, not an action for...

The same is true when you decide to change your living space. Yet almost everyone comes to a project thinking "how to."

When they should be asking questions like "...who are we now, and who do we want to become?"

"How do we live, and how do we translate the complexities of our lives into a criteria for a home that fits?"

"How can my home environment empower my relationships, my values and my life goals?"

Asking those questions seriously requires an underlying view of reality. They require that you consider it possible that changing your home can change your life.

They require you to believe in yourself. They require that you accept that you are valuable enough to deserve such a living space.

And that you can do anything you put your mind to...if you work hard enough, and keep your eye on your goal.

And when you stand in that place, you stand in the realm of visions that come true.

And best of all, you don't need to know "how to" do it.

You just have to believe it is possible...and take one step after another until you get there.

Click here to read the first post in this series.