April 2011

The Renaissance Man

When establishing the Interdisciplinary Research Honor Society (IDR) we had in mind all the big pro-university ideas: promoting interdisciplinary research, advancing science, multiplying the number of interdisciplinary funded projects, etc. However, when you look beyond all that, on a single human scale, the stakes are actually even higher. What is a byproduct of the IDR is a return of the so-called “Renaissance man”.

What I mean by a “Renaissance man” (or woman – don’t get me wrong – it’s just a fixed expression) are guys like Alberti or da Vinci, or Newton. When you look at IDR at the scale of a one man, they are the true incarnations of what we are geared towards – a person, whose scope of vision and expertise is larger than his/her test-tube or computer screen, a man/woman of a highest intellectual and spiritual integrity.

Talking to my Chair about doing a PhD recently, I discovered that the modern PhD’s seized being PhD’s. PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. This comes from the time when Philosophy was still “the mother of all sciences” – a notion that died with the advent of modern science. By now PhD has long lost its true meaning and is an acronym for something no one really understands. However, it has a gravity to it. Tell me, how many Philosophy Doctors do you know and how many PhD’s? What is the difference – purely in the wording even. Can you feel the difference?

Modern science got extremely compartmentalized. Being an “encyclopedist” is neither fashionable nor practical any more. We do not have people of many talents – one, usually (if lucky), which gets oversaturated and fertilized, like livestock or agricultural crops, to grow in one direction only and produce an extremely narrow cone of knowledge. However, we see a rising trend to use such words as “integration”, “overall”, “holistic” and others in all sorts of settings from the kitchen to the lab. IDR is both a result and a tool of this trend.

Our goal, on a human scale and in a philosophical understanding, is the return of people for whom painting, sculpting, policy making, proficiency in higher mathematics and production of engineering marvels all at the same time was not something extraordinary, but natural. A “balanced education”. Not balanced in the sense that you get just as little of math as you do of languages, but balanced in the sense of a full spectrum; doing multiple things that inform and enrich each other.

Before, one man could know many things. Gradually those things seemed to have grown too big for a single mind to contain. A little later we fooled ourselves into believing that the only thing we should do is what our “department” is doing, because “we cannot handle more”. Now, following the periodic graph, we are heading back to the “overall” and the “complex”, back to True Humanity. Once again a Human Being is thinking outside of the constraints that his/her certain field imposes. Although, we do it from a different end – from integrating many into one, rather than growing from one into many – the result is comparable – an individual with many folds and facets, with a complex, but holistic understanding of the world around him/her, a man of many talents, a “Renaissance man”. In a sense, this mission of IDR is just as important as raising awareness and funds, if not most important, because it is the Individual that is in focus. And isn’t this a beautiful and truly noble mission to be a part of?


The essay was submitted for the IDR essay award at Virginia Tech this year.

Have you seen the latest Lexus commercial yet? If not, go ahead and take a look:

All I see from this piece of  animation and cinematography is that humans love space! I understand that the commercial was heavily influenced by “Inception”, which is slowly becoming a movie with just as big of a gravitation as “Matrix”, but still. People just LOVE Space! They savor every (im)possible aspect of it! They dream of it and make movies about it! And they are also desperately frustrated by gravity, and take on every possibility to try to defy it.. This is something that I first noticed with Parcour, or Free-running as they call it in the States – you run and jump all around the city – conquer space in ways that your usual every-day spatial routines do not allow you to. Happy are those who can physically “afford” it – have the muscle that is!

For the rest of us, common mortals the only place we control space to the degree as the Lexus commercial so “pornographically” (as it might probably be put) demonstrates – is virtual reality. And the dream.

(The infamous scene of a zero gravity fight from “Inception”, that pretty much made the whole movie. Real action starts at apx 0:52)

For us, architects, this phenomenon is however something to seriously consider. Humans love Space! We (people) are craving to be able to experience and manipulate space to a maximum extent: we want to walk on the ceiling and want the city to transform itself according to our needs and desires. We want a truly three-dimensional space, because in our everyday life all we experience is actually a 2D with some minor extensions.. We are fed up with gravity and its limitations.. Architecture can fulfill the human craving for space. A truly three-dimensional Architecture. Not much Architecture is that. It is mostly slabs and columns. But the 3D in its extremes – is what people actually want. This is amusing! This is where I’d dare to say that any truly 3D Architecture will be successful – exactly because it satisfies the overwhelming human desire to conquer space – and the better and more sophisticated way we do it, the happier people get. And the more exciting the actual formal result!

At the same time, let’s face it, gravity will always be there. Unless we go “to the stars”… Outer space is an amazing domain for architecture. I bet some might even argue, that space is the end of architecture, because it gets rid of one of the defining aspects of Architecture – gravity (one might say, it’s “cheating” – neglecting gravitational influence on architecture). To me personally – it is an explosion of potency of architectural domain! An ultimate rejection of constraints, in which  the whole distinction between a floor and a wall ceases to exist – everything is a wall and everything is a floor. Exciting!

(An extract from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, start watching from 1:55)

But how exciting is it in the end? Architecture is oftentimes defined by a certain eroticism – you cannot get something that you see. Like when I look at the sloping walls of Casa da Musica in Porto – I want to walk them, but I can’t.. May-be this is exactly what keeps me coming back – the impossibility, but persistence of a certain “spatial desire”. A little bit of Freud for you… What would happen to Architecture, if we could walk the walls on a daily basis?

But still, it would be a blast!

Actually, if we think about it – sky jumping is not only about jumping, it’s about seeing the world from a different perspective, experiencing a different perception of space. Same with diving – a 3-dimensional world, where in addition to left/right there is also an up/down. And flying.. And mountaineering.. And many other things.

Architects: play with space; push it to its limits; make walls walkable in both figurative and literal sense, however you do it (go figure out!)! Humans Love it!

A great article on architectural blogging in the latest ABITARE magazine, issue 509. Full text can be found as a blogpost right here.

I fully confer..

Mindwalk by Bernt Capra

A truly Interdisciplinary movie!

Mediocre acting, total absence of action of any sort, relative boringness and age still don’t undermine the main ideas and points, which are totally valid – therefore, definitely worth checking out!

On the other hand, I am genuinely happy there is a movie where people can just walk around a medieval island and talk about philosophy and changing the world for almost two hours…

Check this out.

One of those really well done videos (I think). For me, another one like that would probably be Justin Timberlake’s “My love”.. With videos like this, just close your ears and enjoy the visual. Stylish. A graphic designer’s dream. Kanye at his shiniest and Rihanna at her best.. Pay attention to the importance of color and the overall “sharpness” of the visual.. There is no way a video like this could have been produced in Chicago, for example. It’s a true “Made in New York ” one.  Interesting – why? How can we sense that? It’s not the only one of its kind. Jay Z is a guy with a similar style.. Of well, he does own the record company that both Kanye and Rihanna are produced at, but still.. There something unique in it..

You know what’s funny – those who do good, will always do good by themselves and they never need anything to assist them. Those who do interdisciplinary research don’t need any societies for that, because that’s just what they do and it comes naturally to them. Those who build sustainable buildings because they consider it to be common “good practice” (which is totally true) do not need any LEED’s or any other stuff of that kind, because they beat LEED standards by a million without any major consultancy. Those who do good architecture don’t need AIA… and so on.

Whom are those societies and policies developed for then? The crowd. The herd, I’d put it more precisely. (“Who is the herd?” one might ask. I’d leave this one open for now)

Those who are strong do not need help, they know what they are doing. Those who are week don’t need societies or policies anyway, because they participate in them in a dumb, brain-free manner, thus undermining those societies’ nominal value. The percentage of those who “change their faith”, that is, who don’t know something, start to participate and then really get down to knowing things, is remarkably small. I guess those are actually the ones whom societies and policies are for, but, gosh, it’s hard to motivate oneself with that only sometimes.