The Journal
Go Back
Loss, Love, Architecture
It's not about buildings
Posted on August 1, 2023 @ 5:42PM
"Architecture is not really about buildings, any more than poetry is about vowels."   

Life is full of disappointments, small and large. Then there is loss in life, an entirely different matter. The former, time will surely reveal to be relative, perhaps even trivial; the latter is absolute, dimensionless. Time does not heal loss; loss is loss. Grieving only allows us to slowly learn how to cope with loss, how to live with it. 

For me, the one-two punch of the passing of my parents is loss; absolute loss, as much a part of me now as the chronic pain I will always live with from a surgery that saved my life in 1987. But once you have first hand knowledge of loss, it is suddenly easy to distinguish loss from disappointment. That aspect of loss is so liberating: suddenly you can laugh at disappointment, dance with it, mock it. "Is that all you have, disappointment? I expected more of you." 

Similarly, once you have experienced love, you are empowered with a full understanding of lust. I am not devaluing or trivializing disappointment, lust, or any powerful human emotion here. Indeed, we need to pay close attention to anything with the potential power to impact us so quickly and dramatically. My point is that until life has directly exposed us to higher level experience it is simply not possible to understand what we don't understand.

This is stuff no book will teach us, understanding that unfortunately our kids ultimately have to learn on their own. A teen shouting at a parent "You are ruining my life!" may present a tiresome portrait of immaturity, but in that moment, our young friend is likely experiencing angst at the earnest limits of their experiential boundaries.

Thank you for indulging me in this rather indirect path to my point, which has to do with the distinction to be drawn between building and architecture. Until you have directly experienced architecture, it is simply not possible to understand what the fuss is about.

I am not particularly interested in buildings. But architecture... Architecture has brought me to tears. 

The first time, in Chartres Cathedral, where the combination of the experience of this astounding work in stone and glass happened to coincide with a wedding. A carpet of red rose petals on the stone floor, a bride, a groom, an entire community gathered in joyful and solemn acknowledgement, pageantry, smoke.

The next time, only a few weeks later, in total solitude in a remote chapel near the French-German border, a signature work of Le Corbusier so profoundly evocative in the silence.

Much more recently, Steven Holl's chapel at Seattle University, where, once again, I stumbled across the work for the first time in the middle of a wedding.

I'm not intending to single out religious architecture here; it just happened to be in two dramatically different expressions of the idea of worship spaces in France that I first truly experienced architecture - a wholly transformational event. I was twenty-one years old, enrolled in architecture school, and had only vague ideas about what architecture actually is... until I directly experienced it.

Architecture is not really about buildings, any more than poetry is about vowels. No more than love is about lust, or loss is about disappointment.

Author: Sam Rodell

Sam has practiced as an award winning architect for forty years, and has also built many of his clients' projects.  He is licensed throughout most of the western USA and Canada, and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) which expedites registration in other states and provinces. He was the first Certified Passive House Consultant architect in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.