28 August 2012

My Father, Architect

In some alternative universe (postulated by cosmology…really) my father was an architect. Automobiles (mid-century sports cars and early-century touring cars) and jazz music (especially swing) were his hobbyist passions. Architecture and writing were his vocational passions.


Early on in his schooling he made a decision to forego his first love – architecture – for journalism. Years later he expressed regret for that. In some ways he compensated by becoming a PR guy for the building industry, working with architects, and even the great architectural photographer, Julius Shulman. Throughout his life he created wonderful living spaces that echoed both his personality and the times. Sunken living rooms, built-in entertainment centers, white shag and aluminum furniture, wall cutouts and mod color schemes eventually were replaced by more modest and less hip interiors. Though, he never really stopped designing.


In that parallel dimension, what kind of architect would dad be? Not a dreamer like Frank Gehry. His work sings of the impossible made real, the alien brought to Earth. Dad’s imagination was much too grounded, his thought processes too structured to create such monuments. Neither was he a futurist like Santiago Calatrava, whose Milwaukee Museum of Art structure we visited together in 2003. He thought the building was fascinating but the focus of Calatrava’s work on structural engineering would not have appealed to him. The execution of Le Corbusier’s vision might have appealed to him (we never had a chance to discuss it) but I doubt the didactic purity of the Modernist school would have. Post-Modernism would have likely left him confused, as it has many of us.


In the end my father was less about abstracts and trends, monuments and movements, and more about building an abode that people feel comfortable to look at and are comfortable to live in. He was a humanist at heart and reason. I can see him in that alternate reality building a house for people, not machines. Organic, constructed with the land, not on top of it. Unique and special, yes, but not a monument. Quiet with little flash and no hubris. Something along the lines of the Gamble House built by Greene and Greene or perhaps a more modest, less assuming Frank Lloyd Wright he might have been.


I’ve come late in life to my love for photographing the built environment. Too late for dad and I to discuss. The last year or so of his life I brought a few books and films on architects and architectural photography to show him. He appreciated them and I understood then that we had more in common than I had previously thought. I wish we had time to explore more cityscapes. We both would have enjoyed that. I think often of him when I am shooting buildings. “Dad would have loved this…he would have hated this…dad would have been awestruck by this…he would have been perplexed by this…” And so, the internal dialog goes and see-saws, one-sided as it is.


But in that alternative universe, my dad is an architect, we are walking those streets, and the conversation flows as it should, back and forth.


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