A hommage to chaos

Shot from the film A Night at the Opera, by the Marx Brothers, directed by Sam Wood and Edmund Goulding in 1935.

In one of the first building works I directed in my life, a line perpendicular line to the façade needed to be made. The builder drove a steel bar into the point along which that perpendicular line needed to be drawn, drove another stake exactly three metres away following the line of the façade, and ran a cord between the two with some left over at both ends.

On one end, he marked four metres and on the other five. Then he took both ends in his hand until they became tense. He made the four and five metre marks coincide and drove another steel bar into the ground there. That was it. It took me a few seconds to realise what he had done.

“Pythagoras!” I exclaimed, “That’s Pythagoras’ theory!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, kid. This is the way we’ve done it since God was a lad.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never though of that.

That is how I began to practice architecture, having to give instructions and orders to people who knew a lot more than I did.

I think that’s happened to us all. We graduate with a lot of knowledge that initially is useless to us while we lack other imperative knowledge. In the end, we are able to acquire it and integrate it, and we end up finding meaning amid the chaos we suffered from for years.

I realise this with hindsight and I believe that more than specific knowledge I attained in the School of Architecture, what really gave me an education, and I still experience this day in and day out, was the need to find order amid the chaos. I would have no idea about something and need to know it in five minutes. I had to learn things that contradicted or went against what a certain professor or a certain subject taught me. I had to be showing people designs on paper and at the same time be trained in installations. This is what shaped me and enabled me to remain in practice in a world where everything changes on a day to day basis and no one explains anything to you. It used to lead me to despair, but now I appreciate that lack of synch in the School or Architecture, its incompatible timetables, the impossibility of being in two places at once, but that, I don’t know how, we somehow are able to pull off.

Today I see that my children do not even need to take notes. They have everything posted for them by their professors on the Internet. And they also have the timetables for their practice sessions whose schedules don’t overlap.

I don’t know. It all seems too well organised, doesn’t it?  I know that you students are going to pounce on me but I think more and more that, a fair amount of chaos and arbitrariness builds character.

If today you have an algebra exam and at the same time a test on structures and you come out with flying colours, then tomorrow there will be no municipal architect or civil servant in the Department of Culture who will sneeze at you and you’ll be stronger than Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris combined.

Text translated by Beth Gelb
Soy arquitecto desde 1985, y desde entonces vengo ejerciendo la profesión liberal. Arquitecto “con los pies en el suelo” y con mucha obra “normal” y “sensata” a sus espaldas. Además de la arquitectura me entusiasma la literatura. Acabo de publicar un libro, Necrotectónicas, que consta de veintitrés relatos sobre las muertes de veintitrés arquitectos ilustres.

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