Patterns of Life

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in Architecture | No Comments

Have you ever considered your patterns of life? Have you ever arrived at work with little recollection of what you did before you got there? If you think about your average day, from day to day, you will discover that very distinct patters. Patterns in the way you move, eat, sleep and work. In most of us, these patterns are so ingrained that we become unaware of them. But they are there. They shape the way we move through life.  They shape our relationships, our health, our emotions and our spirituality. In short, they are critical to our well-being. It is inevitable that these patterns occur. The key is knowing it, and planning for them.

Some time ago, my partner and I, had a contractor in our office on a marketing mission. You know, trying to sell himself so that we will refer work to him. In the midst of the conversation, I asked him what he thought of my partner’s house. He got a friendly grin and thoroughly disguised his real opinion with some innocuous comment about how it doesn’t matter what he thinks as long Paul and his wife were happy. He continued to say that when a client of his sees feels inclined to comment negatively on another house, he is compelled to remind them that they don’t have to live there. Furthermore, in his opinion, Architect’s are generally too critical and not complimentary enough.

Patterns of Life - Hirst Residence

Patterns of Life – Hirst Residence

This conversation got me to thinking about my house, my partner’s house and the value of our opinions.

I live in a builder’s (not so) special. You know, one of those “nice” neighborhoods built by a mass housing developer trying to hit that wanna-be upper middle class market. And, of course, my partner lives in a house he designed and contracted. 

These two houses illustrate one of the most important reasons to hire a good architect to design your house. In one, the residents conform their life patterns to accommodate the house, and in the other the house pattern conforms to the residents. This is the epitome of “my house,” and regardless of any one’s opinion, Paul’s house is most definitely his house.

Here’s one of many examples. My house has one family gathering space. That room happens to be part of the “great room” sharing space with the kitchen and eating area. In general, we like this layout. It’s good for company and entertaining and so forth. But come about 5:00 when me and my 5 kids are all crossing paths, and my wife is making dinner, this becomes an unbearably loud and crazy place. Of course, everyone wants to talk about their day, and a disagreement over something inevitably breaks out and the kid’s favorite TV show has to get turned up so that they can hear over all the commotion. 

This chaos has become one of our patterns of life. Not because we chose it, but because our pre-existing life patterns, shaped by our previous house, just don’t work in the new place. So, we adapted. The space gave us no other choice.

On the other hand, Paul and his family thought very carefully, not of what their life patterns were, but what they wanted them to be. Then they created the environment capable of maintaining these patterns. As a result, they created a true refuge for their family where everything is consciously designed to alleviate the tensions of a forced life pattern.

Unfortunately, I think that letting our environment define our patterns of life is the rule, not the exception. And even more discouraging, I’ll wager, that most of us are only subconsciously aware of it and the stress that it creates in our homes.

But what does this have to do with our contractor’s opinion? Wasn’t he correct to say that if it works for Paul, than his opinion doesn’t matter? Well, yes and no. Yes, to Paul, his opinion doesn’t matter. I know Paul well enough to believe, that a critical opinion of his house really doesn’t matter to him at all. But no, it is not okay to dismiss anything or any opinion by shoeing it aside with the phrase, “well, if it works for them.” Being critical is the beginning of improvement. A critical opinion forms the basis for examination which leads to discovery and ends in refinement and achievement.

After our friend suggested that architects are overly critical, I replied: “the reason for that is because there is so much out there that deserves criticism.” Whether or not Paul’s house would fit my family’s life patterns or any one else’s (which it wouldn’t) by the very nature of taking the care required to make it fit his, he created something that has discernible value to everyone who sees it. A thoughtfully prepared plan, in response to analysis and research, with a backdrop of a critical mind, careful to avoid the pitfalls all around, makes Paul’s house a good house.

I said before that this whole discussion frames the argument in favor of hiring and architect. That is true. But it also frames your search for the right architect. It also explains why the best architects spend lots of time getting to know you before they start designing. It is an architect’s ability to discern, understand and synthesize your patterns of life that can result in a house that works so well for you that you won’t care about anyone’s opinion. Even though they will almost always admit, it is a “good” house.