Could anonymity remove the crippling need for design rationale?
As I walk through the door I’m flushed with exposure. This is a mistake. No. I push through and it’s like passing through a space that is only large enough for my body; all my clothes and affectations are scraped away. I sit on a stackable chair. I wonder how many you can stack and whether this was a key criterion in specifying the chair, that it could be squirrelled away after the meetings. I can feel that my posture is contrived, as if I were sitting naked and wanting to minimise contact. As others walk in they too seem to pass through a filter, but for them it’s to be a fine mesh separating each of their molecules and settling them back together more gently. I envy the confidence with which they walk through the mesh and the relief they appear to feel when reconstituted into looser selves. I think about aggregate mix in pink terrazzo, and remind myself why I’m here.
The person next to me is possibly talking to me. I can’t bring myself to break the noise of my consciousness to find out. This is a support group for people compelled to remain anonymous, how is he expecting me to engage? I wonder if his compulsion manifests as a need to present alternative personalities. Foist somebody new on the world every five minutes and nobody will ever suspect if five in a hundred are real. I contemplate this. The part of me that I tortured to bring here suddenly wakes up, maybe this will generate ideas.
I tell them that my name is John and that I want to specify pink terrazzo and royal blue risers and stripy mullions, but that I can’t let myself
As my pathetic conflict plays out, the person who may or may not have been talking to me addresses the group. Oh. He asks who wants to begin. A woman across the room stands up. She is dressed entirely in purple. The rims of her glasses are purple, rose-tinting her view of me, I assume. She introduces herself and, before the acoustic panels can finish absorbing her name, she launches into a diatribe about how difficult it is to be an author of adult fiction, how society insists she pens under a pseudonym, and something about not being able to pick her children up from school. I’m terrified that my offering will sound as trivial as hers, and will be met with as little compassion as I’m granting her.
Another person stands up to speak: an old man. No, a young man dressed as an old man. His beard has been left to grow out and boast its greys, while his luscious black mop is buzzed. I instantly like him in the way my people are wont to like the enforced reserved. It transpires that he is a professor of some obscure branch of anthropology. He describes how he is unable to present any theories as his own; that his papers are full of fictional references or genuine references stretched to such extremes that they in no way serve his point. Just as I’m beginning to respect him, he falls into a tirade against society’s inclinations to only believe quotes or references, to only believe second-hand information. I am disappointed: this sounds like a lack of original thought. Something niggles that he and I share something. My posture slumps slightly with the weight of belonging. Suddenly I feel compelled to present a self to these people.
I knock the stackable chair on my way up and it clatters crudely. Eyeballs pivot towards me like a flock of pickled eggs. Perhaps pickled eggs rule the world. Perhaps their veil of vinegar protects them from adverse interactions. I want to laugh at my fantastic sense of humour. I say hello. I tell them that my name is John and that I am an architect. I tell them that I want to specify pink terrazzo and royal blue risers and stripy mullions and glazed headers but that I can’t let myself; that I can’t introduce ‘unnecessary’ materials to the pallet. I feel my hands air-quoting and hate myself. I explain that this has led to my working 100-hour weeks documenting all the materials within a 400m radius of a project’s site to shore up justification. I hear myself sounding ridiculous when I tell them that I believe we are in the midst of an epidemic; that all architects have my disease and we must force some sort of intervention. I tell them that I have been to all the degree shows and they are full of photographs of worn-out beauty but scant proposals for keeping up the quota. I tell them that students in 200 years will have nothing to take photos of.
I tell them that I have found a solution in anonymity: that all architects should shed their identities so that they can design like dead people: without the crippling need for rationale. I tell them that I came to this meeting for a last moment in a world that wants me to be myself, but that I am now formally beginning my campaign for anonymous architects, never to be credited again, never again to produce irreconcilable justification or ‘refine’ an already anorexic pallet.
The second set of air quotes wakes me from my trance. I calmly pick up my coat and bag and go forth to design with the joy and relish of the dead. I invite you, reader, to do the same.
Maria Smith is a director at Studio Weave