Yesterday I was reading an article* about Carlos Jimenez, a young (52 which is younger than I am anyway) architect in Houston and remembered visiting him in his office about a decade ago.  Looking back through my notes, I remembered that he introduced me to the concept of generosity in architecture – its power to enhance the quality of one’s living.

He had entertained thoughts of entering the priesthood.  Those thoughts had long ago left him but, “my Catholic background was very beneficial because I learned a lot about human qualities that have a kind of transformative power.  And as I do architecture, I realize that one has a duty to transform certain realities.  Any project calls forth an occasion to solve its problems and aspire beyond them.  That is when a work of architecture arises…”

As opposed to a thoughtless agglomeration of rooms.  There are differences both subtle and not so.  It is no surprise that great architects relish opportunities to design places of worship whether they be churches or museum.  People visit those building types hoping to be moved spiritually and are thus prized consumers of finely wrought spaces.

All makes me think of the off quoted notion (here and elsewhere) that “architecture is nothing but frozen music” and am sure that many folks more quickly recall being moved by music than by moving through built space.  It is universal.  Incredibly so.

A few months ago on NPR’s Fresh Air I heard a researcher describe a situation involving a profoundly handicapped young woman.  She had been born with only the most ancient components of a brain enabling only the most basic physiological systems.

There had never been any concern for her experience of life because no one figured there was awareness.  One day, for some reason, someone brought in a music box, wound it up, and pushed go.  It was immediately apparent that there was register as she turned toward the device ever so slowly in a process reminiscent of a slow motion take of a flower turning toward the sun.  There were gasps all around.

Those of us more fortunate can notice differing effects of the differing permutations of particular arrangements of notes or rooms.  Take the exact same sets of either, rearrange them, and voila – something new, but generative of very different emotion.

Like this for example:

  Or this:

*Architect, December 2011

**Jimenez was on the shortlist for the design of a new art museum in a city by the Mississippi.  Here is what he said about the site: “I am struck by the rich potential of the chosen site…challenge will be to address these two compelling forces (urban grid and the river) in a building that bridges and filters one and the other.  The collection, the galleries, light, space, flows, views, landscape, all must merge”.    His aesthetic is similar to the one selected, but method of delivery more sensual.

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