Architects are inspired by many things. Sometimes it is easy to see a direct correlation in our designs; other times the specific inspiration is not so readily apparent. Recently I had the pleasure of being on a retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico – close to the area that inspired Georgia O’Keefe and her magnificent landscapes. The famous Flat topped Pedernal Mountain in the Jemez Mountains was always in view, but it was the surrounding sandstone cliffs and canyons that inspired me morning and night. The transformative qualities from the rising and setting sun, against the backdrop of the deep blue cloudless sky, were mesmerizing.
Nature has often influenced designers, sometimes in direct ways, as is seen in the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, more philosophically in the works of Wright, and recently in buildings shaped by the form of DNA and other forms found under the microscope. Other architects and engineers look to nature and how it performs to help us design buildings more intelligently in harmony with the world, not just consuming our resources, but giving back.
So why did the sandstone rock faces speak to me so profoundly? I think it is multifold…the millions of years of history revealed in complete view, the utter simplicity in form, yet infinite richness found on the surface, the stillness, yet extraordinary changes revealed by the path of the sun. Powerful places speak to the unconscious in ways we don’t fully comprehend, but we know that fully experiencing those places will inform how we approach thinking, designing, living.
Sometimes architects try too hard to add complexity and obscure metaphorical messages in the buildings we design, but if we step back and look at the environments that endure, and continue to inspire us for generations, there is a boldness, simplicity and clarity to these places that stand the test of time.
They change without moving.
First black, but for a meandering white line forshadowing the day to come.
Soft hues and gently cast shadows quietly awaken without great fanfare,
but, then, for what seems a moment,
the colors and layers of history mark their territory
only to be washed away by intense light hiding the cracks, hues, forms and signs of aging.
Until the light is low when colors, forms and stacked layers of time in all their grandeur, sing Hallelujah!
As if to tell you that the day is almost done, and asking
“Have you seen and listened and felt all you can for a single day?”