The Value of Things

Architecture is the making of meaningful places.

Architecture creates the opportunity for commerce and culture.

Architecture utilizes all of the means of production, technologies, and resources we have available to us.

Architecture episodically optimizes our processes in a lean, efficient way, and engages our sense of discovery and wonder in a didactic and energizing way.

Architecture must embody the recognition that our resources are finite, that our planet is changing, and that design can be an instrument to mitigate the damage of that change. As we struggle with the realization that our planet’s current patterns of consumption are not sustainable, we must be more judicious about the way we design and build our cities, landscapes and processes.

As I consider these challenges, I’ve also been reflecting on the making of things: the craft of architecture. We design tools for our clients’ businesses every day, focused on creating value for our clients. We carefully harness the incredible technologies available, specifying materials and processes to make these artifacts we call buildings. They are all collages of components and systems. These collages enable businesses to function, people to heal, musicians to perform, and students to learn.

I’ve also been reflecting on the making of things in terms of how our society defines value.

Those who know me know that I love to swim and hike. As I’m walking in urban and suburban environments, I am often confronted with the detritus of our society: broken objects, pieces of things, materials discarded as waste, parts of larger systems. I’ve been gathering these found objects for the last two years. The photographs show what I’ve done with them. What I am creating with these pieces is intended to provoke a conversation about what it means that these items have been so readily discarded. They are considered waste, and yet they are still useful. When is waste not waste?

Plastic on plastic, metal on metal. Can we move beyond the notion that things, the products of our collective productive capacity, are either of value or valueless? Can we find beauty in doing more with less? Can we find beauty in unexpected places?

I hope to provoke the continuation of the more wide ranging conversation we are having about the nature of consumption, and how our civilization defines waste. We must all be stewards of our environment, and as architects we have the ability to control which means of production we use to make these meaningful places.

By utilizing valueless material, I wish to contradict the notion of waste itself and hope to bring this sensibility to our profession. The multiplicity of materials never ceases to amaze me. Can we examine materials transparency, cradle to cradle consumption, recycling, upcycling, and collage as we contemplate the question: what is the value of our planet?

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