Under The Influences
Everyone has something or someone that drives a little bit of what they do, guides their direction a bit, helps influence their decision making process - or lack thereof, even - and generally helps shape who it is they are and what they want their life and work to ultimately reflect. I had a professor in grad school who said there was never really such a thing as an original idea, that even the best idea was influenced by somebody or something that influenced you and that we take/steal/borrow a little bit from those influences in coming up with our "original" idea, whether knowingly or not. (This was also the same professor who told us all that every great idea in the world, every great invention that changed the world, every great book that was ever written, every great painting in the history of the world...all started out at the same exact place: a blank sheet of paper. That thought alone got us all to write our books a little happily-er...which I'm sure is a word he'd not be too thrilled about. Sidenote: that blank sheet of paper thought he passed on to us is one of my most influential thoughts still today. Gets me through tons of problem solving.) Anyway, we're all heavily influenced by something or someone, be it positively or negatively. And hopefully influences change as we grow and we all keep learning. I used to always use the "life-is-short" theme as a guide until someone told me this past summer that her gram always taught her that "life is long"...and now that influences a lot of my/our decisions, a lot more so and more often than the life-is-short motto. Actually, life is short is kind of a crappy motto right from the get-go, if you think about it...kind of gives you more freedom to make bad decisions, whereas life is long definitely makes you think long term because you'll be dealing with the consequences of your decisions for a very long time - and this can be applied to building and design just as much as daily life. Much better, fer shure.
Coming from an awesome family but with no dad gave us all the great chance to really be open to influences from everywhere. No one really ever said if something was good or bad, we were just left to make choices on those types of things based on previous guidance from mom, and we were influenced heavily by her never-ever-stopping work ethic which she employed to keep three of us fed. And I ate a friggin ton, so she was always working. Obviously, we're influenced in all ways by parents. But hugely by friends, enemies, frienemies, art, music, deaths, loves...I don't know. My cousins were massive to me...my sister is huge, even my little brother too. Everything gets us somehow, I suppose.
I've always wanted to write about who influences what we do when we're working, when I'm working, when I'm drawing and planning and thinking, when I'm trying to figure a solution to what would probably seem an insignificant problem to most, when I'm trying to figure out how to make a business for doing "good" and not so much a good "business". I think this type of thing is insanely important. If you ask two people who their biggest influence is, and one of them says, "The Dalai Lama" and the other says, "Oh, probably Sonny Barger"...you've got quite a difference on your hands, and how you view that person towards the future will weigh greatly on that answer.
So, some of our influences (and only some, just scratching the surface here, trying to keep it business-time...otherwise there'd be a lot more of this )....the people and things that influence and guide us in our work, the things and thoughts that keep our fingers bleeding and calloused and keep us working not until the day is over at 4:30 but until the task is finished at 7:30 and we're working in headlights in the snow....in no particular order as follows. And hopefully (because I've found out there are actually a few people apart from my cousins who read this...but maybe only one or two, so "couple" might be better than "few") you'll check them out a bit more too and support them.
John Abrams and South Mountain Company - A Martha's Vineyard building company. John started it about 35 years ago, and now it's one of the forerunners in the employee-owned movement. They're doing work that costs way more than anything we will likely ever do, but it doesn't mean we don't try to emulate their quality and ethics. John's book about the company, The Company We Keep, was - and still is - massive to me. I could probably quote pages if asked to, as I reference it that often.
Samuel Mockbee and The Rural Studio - I only learned of Samuel Mockbee, The Rural Studio, and the Architecture Of Decency, in the past few years, but I've devoured every bit of information I can get my hands on regarding what they do, and especially for who they do their work. Amazing people, amazing work, and a very very "life-is-long" outlook being applied in a situation where life is likely, actually, quite short.
Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard - My friends will yawn at this because I babble about this guy all the time. Obviously, some people who influence us we'll never actually meet. I've met John Abrams, Samuel Mockbee has passed, and this guy here is too huge to ever meet. But when all of a sudden one day I was working for myself and decided to make a go of it, I literally thought..."holy shit...what the f***??!!...I've spent a gajillion dollars on economics and business and learning, and all I ever got out of it was a total disdain for anything related to those two topics...I have $130, a broken 1986 single-bed Ford, a hangover, and minimal tools...but an absolute shitload of drive. I better figure out a new way to do this thing in a right way." And that's how I became a Chouinard fan. The clothes are cool, sure, and they do last freakishly long even when I absolutely beat the daylights out of their pants, every single day, and usually without washing for grossly long lengths of time. But his book, and the fact that he hated - and still does detest - business and everything it stood for, and how he has used his company to change a good few things about how business is done is all incredibly motivational. He's got a billion dollars and doesn't have to work - but still does - so he's granted a lot of freedom to do things at will. But I often think, well, what if someone took a lot of those ideas and put them into motion even way before they had that money to fall back on. What's the difference? He drinks a cup of coffee every morning, you drink a cup of coffee every morning (or 3 or 4), and we all put our pants on the same way no matter the bank balance.... so why not? Everyone should try it. It's obviously a different work environment, and the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with coordinating a building work site are immensely different than an office-esque atmosphere, but still...a lot of it is possible to put into place in our work. So we try...as much as possible.
Yestermorrow - This little place up in Vermont... I could never, ever say enough about this place. At first glance, it seems it'd be easy for someone who's been building stuff their entire life to turn up their nose at this little shindig - because guys who have been building their entire lives generally don't enjoy being told there is a different way to do exactly what it is they've been doing forever - but I'd say if you've been building your entire life, you need to go here even more so than the person who's never lifted a hammer. Actually, you have to go here. It should almost be required. (Sidenote - we have to do all kinds of "continuing education" now for building in Massachusetts. It's all - or 90% of it - bullshit. They should make everyone go to this place instead. It would solve almost all of the problems with the world of building). If you've already got the skills, this place will give you a new direction, a very very good direction. Often times people who've been building get stuck. Tunnel-vision, so to speak. Building sites and all that goes into a successful and well-run project are unbelievably stressful, complicated, intense, and often entirely all consuming. This place is where I get rid of all that crap. When we finish a big job, an intense job that will keep us/me working seven days a week, ten-twelve hour days, six or seven months straight (and that is not even close to an exaggeration at all) you'd think the first place I'd want to go would be an island away from everyone and everything. Turn it all off. Gather thoughts. Breathe again. Maybe actually sit down for a cup of coffee instead of drain 3 in a row standing up and running around. But it's not. This little haven up in Warren, VT is exactly the first place I go after we wrap up a job, and it doesn't matter what the class is or who's instructing or even if I've already done whatever it is that knowledge is being dropped upon at that time. Some guys buy a big bottle of expensive scotch, some go to a fancy dinner at the Ocean House, some go on a beach vacation. I go straight back to driving up Rt. 100, smelling cow shit in the open window, sleeping in a tent, swimming in a river, and learning about building the way I hope to build (and not so much the way some weird structural code that will never ever ever matter says I have to build) and remembering again why I really love it all in the first place....and all this from the best place in the world to do so.
Ryan Adanalian - I'm sure Ryan will laugh at being on here because he doesn't have the ego to think he's very good at what he does, but I don't give a shit. I love to surf, no matter that I'm not exactly Kelly Slater or Machado, and so does Ry, but I think it's okay and not outside the lines for me to say that with Ryan, it's all about the stoke. Kid just loves everything about designing and building things. And he's good. Ry is a big influence because he's young, inspired, motivated, creative, and he just loves it. It's kind of like that old quote, the one that says if you are doing something you love for a living, you never really work a day in your life. I think that's Ry. He's a fresh architect, but his mind is so open it's like....like a blank page, and I think that anything he puts on it will be super cool. If you've ever read Calvin and Hobbes, that's how I think of Ryan. Whenever Calvin has an idea that's super exciting and likely incredibly mischievous, he gets a massive goofy smile on his face. That's how Ry is when you talk about designing and building things. We met a few years ago and we've stayed in touch bouncing ideas and thoughts off each other more and more since then. He helps us in our work, and hopefully we help him in some way. Check him out...and hire him.
That's all I'm going to put down for now... More and more keep popping up as I think, so maybe there'll be another one further down the road. Generally, people who are doing something different, who really going for it, putting a lot on the line and risking a lot in doing that- people like Kris Roscoe at Solar Terrain in Philly, Gary Hirshberg, the Devils, Malcolm Wells, and even my friends who are now starting businesses around the world and having a go at it. It's a big risk. Choose good influences and stick with them.