Small Steps and Giant Leaps (Part 2)

To look for motivation, sometimes you have to go to a higher place

Staying motivated about anything over time is always difficult; we get distracted and bored and we all tend to assume that everyone else must be having a better time of it than ourselves. Staying motivated as a classical architect is much harder still, as the usual benefits such as income and recognition are not as readily available as they should be.

“What am I doing?” is a question we all have to ask ourselves at times. Usually I tend to put it to the back of my mind and keep trudging along this strange path I’ve somehow found myself on. But it always lingers and can naturally affect my work; if you can’t find an answer for why you are doing something, it usually makes sense to stop it, doesn’t it? I’ve written before how doing this work feels like an act of faith, having a hunch that something better must be around the corner, but the relatively low rate of return doesn’t seem to make sense and it starts to feel harder to justify continuing as I learn more, invest more and get less back. The faith I write about gets tested and stretched very quickly under these conditions. The question of “what am I doing?” is really a question of what is my motivation, what is the purpose of this approach.

If you think of usual types of motivation such as income, stability, approval and recognition, none of these seem to apply to classical architecture. Put another way, if you wanted to make money, you really should do something else; you should design something that was cheap to build and easy to sell. Or if you wanted recognition, you should design buildings that you know would meet with industry approval. What is common to these forms of motivation or reward is that they are very easy to prove; you can see the nice car bought with your bonus or the magazine cover with your face on it. Indeed it is easy for others to see those kinds of rewards too. You can prove your success not only to others, but to yourself as well. What classical architecture provides is other forms of reward that are less obvious and less easy to prove to others.

Material wealth or others’ approval may come along in time, but by seeking only income and fame in your work, is to aim too low. When you put money and recognition first,  you are never going to reach the goals that classical architecture embodies. To create architecture for a greater good, classical architecture is simply the best medium to use because the greater good is one of it’s defining characteristics.

The focus on monetary reward and approval from peers is a particularly 20th century phenomenon, when greed, materialism and selfishness became not only acceptable, but a virtue in western society. In the 20th century economic modesty has become a sign of lethargy, sincerity a sign of gullibility, dignity and intelligence a sign of elitism and waste an indicator of wealth and status. Belief or faith in any kind of greater good is seen as laughable, with the advancement of the self being the only acceptable goal or purpose.

The cause of this breakdown in faith in the greater good, and the consequent effects on architecture can largely be put down to the hubris of our industrial age. But a correction will inevitably come in time, whether that is peak oil, climate change or military conflict over resources. The current housing crisis is a perfect example of how business interests were allowed to trump the needs of society and the greater good. Too many vested interests hold the power at present but there is a growing backlash. We are all looking at the world as it has developed in the past 100 years and wondering that there must be a better way to provide for our species with the resources we have at hand.

So coming back to architecture, when I look for motivation, it will never be in the obvious forms of peer approval and monetary gain. It is so much bigger than me and the part I can play in it is infinitely small. But that is exactly what I fell that I have to do, plant seeds of hope and faith in the greater good in as selfless a way as possible. To this can feel like a struggle a lot of the time, but it is only a struggle if we allow it to be. If we drop the expectations and simply concentrate on the work, it becomes its own reward, a reward that is greater than anything we can buy from a store or receive from our peers.

Much of the 20th century can be characterised by selfishness, cynicism and wilful ignorance, and modernist architecture is the built embodiment of these traits let loose. But we as those who will mold a new century have to remember, classicists will always hold the higher ground; Faith in something greater, hope in  reaching for it and love for world we call home.



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