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Distracted from Achievement
November 14, 2013

We are too distracted today to achieve real, focused, positive change/results. Too distracted by constant noise, chatter by/from/about each other or the weather, news, world events, guns, politics, religion, reality TV, celebrities, etc., etc.. Too many things in our way detouring us from a clear road of a sustained stream of conscious thinking and planning for an improved future. Today we seem only to RE-act to other actions (or inaction) rather than plan an appropriate, sensible course forward.

What we need is more positive focus on intelligent beneficent ideas that will enhance the quality of life for ALL, not just the top. We need more visionaries like Edison, Einstein, Wright, King, and Jobs with bigger bolder ideas. I think the 1950's was our greatest decade in terms of invention, exploration, design (industrial, auto, architectural concepts) - dreaming, imagining, and actually planning the future, or what we thought it could be. We had the highest standard of living in the world. We were designing, making, building, manufacturing, fabricating, supplying, buying and selling! We were working, praying, playing, growing, traveling, enjoying -- living!! We were fearful of defeat and fearless toward a challenge. But the main thing we were that made us, for a brief moment in time, unstoppable in advancement and achievement, was that we were TOGETHER - we were one nation singularly focused on the prize - on being #1. In it for better or for better - never considering "for worse".

Today, we are fractured as a nation, as people, and are close to becoming merely a conglomerate of people, of separated individuals part of the "me" generation. The time has come to call upon our vast resource of human ingenuity and creativity - to pull together as we never have since WWII. It may be time to turn off the "I" phones for just a minute and focus back on the "we" for the betterment of our kids and grandkids. America has always championed the underdog. We are still the giant awakened in WWII, recently fallen back asleep while the rest of the world catches up and passes us by. But we were also once a great Cinderalla story (Revolutionary War, WWI and WWII), and we need to make a comeback once again!! So let's focus, turn off the chatter that can tear us apart, and be that great nation of free, hard-working thinkers and dreamers that our Forefathers imagined we would be!

~ Colin Edward Slais
Scottsdale, AZ

"Old World" Architecture vs. our New World

There is an interesting dichotomy going on in our society today between new technology/modern conveniences and the architecture surrounding it. A large portion of people consciously aware of architecture seem to gravitate toward a style or “feeling” typically referred to as “Old World”. The other big buzz word, in this region of the country at least, is “Tuscany” (especially here in the Southwest). Some people use the two interchangeably, but in general, refer to similar characteristics, such as exposed wood beams, faux finishes, arched windows, natural stone, ornamentation, etc. The other common traits among houses of this type are high ceilings, lots of trim work and crown moldings, and sometimes some domes and turrets. The main influence of such a style seems to come from trips taken to Tuscany, Italy itself and/or developers’ relentless marketing of the perception of this style.

At any rate, it is curious to juxtapose this fascination of an “Old World” architectural style with the “New World” in which we actually live. For example, most Americans seem to like and want new vehicles with all the latest technological gadgets/software available. Most typically want the biggest TV with the newest “smart” capabilities. Most want the more recent version of cell phone with updates and apps. Most want the current tablet or laptop with new software. Most would prefer modern security systems with remote capabilities. When traveling, most people want to fly on modern jets to modern airports to get in modern cars to modern hotels with Wi-Fi and all the modern “conveniences”. If given the opportunity, most people would agree in a heartbeat to spend a week on sleek, modern, shiny, brand new yacht with all the modern luxuries.

Everything seems to be “modernizing” except the typical preferred tastes for the American dwelling. It is 2013 (we were supposed to be flying by now in our individual flying transport units according to those “seeing” the future in the 1950’s), and everything relates to the current time in which we live, yet our homes more closely reflect the year 1813 or even older. No one who prefers this “Old World” feel was anywhere close to even being born in such a time, much less really experience it. The “Old World” was actually a time much dirtier, less hygienic, less comfortable, and of a much harder life than we could ever withstand today. So why the “nostalgia” for a time or lifestyle we would hardly consider desirable today? And why is Tuscany, Italy held in such high regard when our own beautiful country, built upon the greatest freedom and Democracy in the world (until the race for profit only almost ruined us) should be all the inspiration we need?

If the answer is that we need a respite, a break from the ever-changing, ever-updating techno world spinning around us – that we long for a solid, stable, roots-in-the ground atmosphere, I suggest that we need not go back 200 years or to Tuscany. We only need to tap into ourselves – into that infinite variety that comes from the free, creative imagination. We need only be inspired by purpose, by need, and how best to accommodate our lives. We only have to observe our context – the air, water, light, neighbors, views, ground, and nature herself. Simplicity will help us create our own oasis by eliminating the unnecessary and insignificant. Only a truly free architecture, emanating from our own time and place, can connect us back to the Earth from which we have become dangerously detached. An architecture of simplicity, harmony and sympathy to our human family -- that gets out of the way of our ancestral connection to nature, is all the architecture we need. It’s time to give Tuscany back to Italy and express ourselves through an appropriate architecture by looking into rather than at to more closely represent who we are as free Americans!
The Architect and Public Perception

Having been an architect for quite some time, I continue to get the same questions from people, namely, "Do you do residential or commercial?" and "What type of style do you do?", or here in Arizona, "Do you do Santa Barbara, Tuscany, Spanish Colonial, _________?" It occurred to me that the public's perception of an architect is that he/she does whatever the client wants.

While it's true the architect must design to meet client needs while also considering site conditions, building codes, etc., what the public does not perceive is the architect as, in some part, an artist. Why? We architects might not be doing well enough in educating the public on not only what an architect does, but who an architect is. Though it seems most architects will do just about whatever the client says, thus perpetuating the perception, there are some who live and work by their own principles or beliefs. They have a distinct "signature" or direction from which they won't stray too far because they believe strongly in the benefits to the quality of the work and to life itself.

In other words, clients might unknowingly be telling a "Picasso" to paint them a "Renoir". I think we all know that no artist of merit would paint like another. So, how can we inform the public that architects can still be artists with very different approaches? It's up to the profession itself through more public speaking, more community engagement, more writing, more school involvement, etc. And just maybe, architects could show more of their own work and ideas in public exhibits and finally taste some of that wine and cheese.

The Environment -- Essential Beauty

March 27th , 2011 was such a perfectly beautiful day that I had to take the photo below from our front courtyard bench. Imagine birds singing with our nearby wind chime keeping tune. A gently-caressing, cool breeze passes over as you quietly read and sip a delicious glass of juice.

This was one of those perfect-weather days that we all cherrish! So perfect, in fact, that it inspires you and elevates your spirit as much as any religion can. It also got me thinking about just how essential a clean, safe, healthy environment is for the sustenance of ALL LIFE!

Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, Times Beach, The Gulf Oil Spill, Fukushima Power Plant, pollution, garbage "islands" floating in the world's seas, overfishing, the voracious demand for energy, food and water......HUMANS, not anything else, but HUMANS are literally destroying planet Earth. This is not an opinion, it's a fact. So, we have to ask ourselves, if we maintain status quo, how in the world can this tiny planet with LIMITED RESOURCES possibly continue to support this unconscionable behavior along with population growth that will only require MORE food, MORE water, MORE energy???

For the survival of ALL species, we MUST, MUST conserve energy and resources while implementing alternative energy sources. We must stop SUPER-SIZING everything -- waste less food, water and natural resources. We MUST recycle more and throw less in landfills.

If we don't change our destructive behavior RIGHT NOW, there won't be many days like this left. ALL life DESERVES a clean, safe, healthy environment in which to live peacefully. ALL life around the world deserves to enjoy many perfectly beautiful days!

The Invisible Roof

There have been many movements, or styles, in architecture throughout history, from Classical and Baroque to the Prairie Style, Modernism and Deconstructivism, etc. Today’s new buildings continue this evolution in the perpetual search of expressing our time. The one constant through all this change that will always be the basic purpose of architecture is shelter! Shelter has, throughout time, been especially concerned with the overhead, expressed by visible roofs with names like gable, hip, shed and dome, etc. Because these roofs were visible, a variety of materials and colors were used to celebrate this function of shelter.

However, with the Industrial Revolution and the turn of the century, the visible roof began to disappear and give way to the “flat” plane (which still, by the way, has some slope). This “flat” roof plane sometimes still had an eave, but with the International Style and “machine-age” becoming more popular, the visible roof vanished and metamorphosized into parapets and flatter, abstract forms & surfaces. This challenged the notion of what shelter could be while breaking free from traditional forms, which coincides with what was happening in the art world regarding challenging traditional subject matter in favor of a new expression of a brave new world (which I think is utterly essential!). But, this all has raised a question within me – what has “removing” the roof done to much of the architecture today??

Many of today’s more publicized buildings appear to me as “machines”, devoid of the sense of human scale and shelter that generous roofs can help provide. Roofs protect us from the elements (which tend to come from above) as well as protect the exterior building “skin”, which can help reduce maintenance. With flatter surfaces and more box-like forms, today’s buildings do not invoke the same feeling of comfort that can come from a good “hat” to keep the sun and rain off.

Most of the “cutting-edge” structures in the magazines today also seem to depend heavily on new technology for everything from heating & air conditioning requirements (which a good roof with appropriate overhangs could minimize), to electrical and security systems, as well as for the exterior materials. Again, while I encourage R&D for a better future, there is a tendency for the mere celebratory expression of technical prowess, resulting in buildings appearing thin, fragile, temporary objects, separate from nature and the very people for which they were designed.

So, what about the roof? I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of what a good roof represents in architecture for our fellow human family – shelter, protection and comfort. Nature’s elements should and will always play the leading role in how we build in harmonious connection with them (especially with today’s climate issues), regardless of how “advanced” technology may seduce us into a false sense of detachment from an ever-changing environment. What do you think?.....

Is Artificiality OK?

I recently returned from a presentation by a countertop manufacturer for continuing education credit. He discussed how solid surfaces can now look like marble or granite for much cheaper prices. He spoke about benefits of seamless transitions, easier repairs and installation, etc. Someone even asked if this solid surface material could be made to resemble wood. He said the technology was coming.

This got me artificiality OK in architecture or our world in general for that matter? We now have artificial turf and plants, vinyl siding resembling wood clapboard, concrete roof tiles resembling wood shake, vinyl flooring resembling wood plank, plastic laminates resembling about any material you want, etc., etc. We have new buildings that look old and older people that look younger. Brunettes are blond and grey hair is never to be seen. By the way, most of what we eat and drink is artificial. It raises the question if this should be acceptable? Doesn't it just FEEL like somehow or other this is going to come back and bite us?

Of course there are pros and cons to everything. The artificial products briefly mentioned above do have some big positives -- lower financial cost and maintenance, less depletion of certain resources, greater durability and lifespan, etc. But what will be the catch? There is ALWAYS a catch! Could we be poisoning our bodies and increasing certain disease risks with artificial foods or from product off-gassing? Are we building a world where PERCEPTION of truth is replacing truth? What would be wrong with a world where very little is as it seems? It feels like a philisophical question -- one that I've not heard posed, until now. I haven't formulated my own definitive opinion yet, other than it just FEELS like we are headed in a dangerous direction.

The Importance of Planning

"The good life is planned like a good game of golf -- never perfect but able to recover" is a quote of mine that I live by daily. Whether it's space planning, financial planning, vacation or retirement, all of us need to plan for the future. Planning means preparing for what we WANT to happen, or what we think we can control. However, just as important, it means preparing for the unpredictable, or what we don't think we can control. It's comparable to insurance, I suppose. I've heard many people say that life is too unpredictable to plan, that "things just happen". This implies a philosophy that we are all on some roller coaster ride we didn't choose and that we are at the mercy of only one set of tracks as a mere passenger -- such is our lot in life!

However, if we CHOOSE to THINK differently, to change our perspective from passenger to driver, then PLANNING becomes a powerful tool for not only accomplishing goals, but VISUALIZING constructive options and opportunities for a better life -- our own set of tracks! Life may have some unpredictability, but planning is still the key to achieving goals and being better prepared for the unexpected. I've read that Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a "Master Plan' for his whole life and that he has achieved almost everything on it thus far.

So, despite some detours en route, keep moving forward according to plan. Just as with Master Planning large developments, we need to "see" the big picture, the end goal so that we can initiate the first smaller steps toward ultimate accomplishment!

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