30 June 2010

Of Modernism and Imagining A New Way

It was a rocky hillside. Useless land, they said. Sparse, steep, and stupid.

The land was basically donated to a project creating Case Study Houses (initiated in 1945) for the new generation of prospective American homeowners, including an enormous population of GIs returning from war and about to settle into family life.

On this rocky hillside, a still young architect named Pierre Koenig designed a breathtaking masterpiece on what was previously seen as an unbuildable lot. Case Study House #22 immediately became the most recognizable home in the famous Hollywood Hills and the architectural gem of a generation.

Sparse, steep, and stupid was quickly transformed into superb, sleek, and spectacular.

Koenig did what noone before him could do. He imagined a way forward and a possibility in a place that was otherwise architecturally impossible. He set a new path, forged a new trail, and set a new standard as to what could be done - not just with the burdensome lot, but with the beautiful aesthetics of modernism.

The hill was the house. The view was the draw. So the structure was built to be nearly transparent, to blend into the hillside and accentuate the sweeping vistas overlooking Los Angeles.

A new way had been envisioned. A new standard had been set.

What are you facing that needs a fresh thought, a bright idea, an imagination of a new way? And will you walk away from the possibilities therein for lack of faith to try where others have failed?

29 June 2010

Of Modernism and the Simplicity of Profundity

One of my favorite aspects of modernism in architecture is the unstated upholding of the ideal that that beauty lies not in the flourishes of flair but in the simplicity of a space well-designed.

To the right is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building in New York, in many ways the archetypal modernist building. It is a beacon of clarity, simplicity, functionality, and beauty. And the beauty comes from the preceding adjectives. It is in the clean lines and clear purpose that the structure stands so mightily.

I guess the point is that sometimes the simple reveals the profound.

Sometimes the gleam in a child's eye can reveal the most momentous of joys.

Sometimes the laughter between friends can rekindle hearts and memories alike.

Sometimes a simple song can open up the doors of heaven.

Sometimes a smile from across a room can change the declension of the day.

Sometimes a tear can be as hopeful as it is mournful, as much an indicator of a future as a remembrance of the past.

Sometimes less is more.

28 June 2010

Of Modernism and Form Following Function

I fear I am becoming a "design nerd". You know, one of these people that lauds or evangelizes a product for great design, regardless of it's functionality in my world.

Still a fuzzy concept? Let me explain. I would really like this bicycle. It is ultra-light, based on quality historical design, uber-functional, and pretty dang cool looking. And it is $690. Ya, for a bicycle...designed for intra-city transportation. Not a mountain bike or a racing bike...just a run-to-the-grocery-store-to-grab-some-milk bike.

And yet it is the design that is so alluring. It is no more complicated than it needs to be. It is no heavier than it needs to be. It doesn't have unnecessary bells or whistles and yet it isn't left so spare so as to discount the beauty of a creation either. It is well-designed.

This bicycle showcases the best aspects of the architecture phrase "Form follows function". This is basically the idea that the space or creation should first remain beholden to the functionality intended and then allow the form to coalesce around that desired use.

So some of us buy houses with formal dining rooms. And most of us will never host a formal dinner in our entire lives. Really, I would wonder if the formal dining room isn't just bad design. Wouldn't we rather have more room for casual entertaining, family activities, or some other oft-repeated pasttime? And yet the majority of new suburban homes offer some sort of formal living and/or formal dining space.

As such, we have a lot of homes with seldom sat-in couches and seldom-used crystal because function has become slave to form.

Our lives are this way.

We often allow the terms of our cultural existence to dictate our practical being. We hear the lies from marketers and shrug them off only to wonder if they may be right after all...

You need a bigger car...

You need a nicer house...

You need a $690 bicycle...

You should make more money...

You should study something that pays well...

You should be like everyone else...

Because we live in a mass-produced world and a culture of efficiency, there is a temptation to fall in line and have the function of our lives fit into the form (the mold) that has been set before us.

We can choose instead to listen to the wisdom of American architect Louis Sullivan, who declared in 1896:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.

The way of our life should be slave to the direction we are heading. Those of us who claim Christ should organize our lives not after the form of a world fascinated with its own consumption, but rather with the functionality of the Christ-life as our primary driver.

I don't know what that looks like for your specifically. What I do know is that many of our lives would look very different if they would follow the simple credo of a fringe 19th century architect. And it may not look like everyone else's...it may be weird or derisive or even painful. But it will be true. And that must be a good thing.

Good design matters. In what order is your life being designed?

27 June 2010

Modernism Week: Of Modernism and Legacy

This is part 1 of a week of posts related to modernism. An explanation as to why there is a week of posts on modernism can be found here: LINK

Julius Shulman is the the world's most celebrated, respected photographer of modernism. It is his photo of the Stahl House (Case Study House #22) that in many ways defined Los Angeles and architectural modernism.

Watching Julius Shulman interact with his subjects, the structures that were his life's work in capturing, was mesmerizing. Shulman could almost relate to the building he was charged with photographing. He could sense it's potential, find it's good side, and place it in such a light so as to capture it in an almost eternal sense. He took an architectural style that can lend itself to coldness and practicality and infused great beauty. He found the nuances that others could not see. He, very simply, defined modernism for the world to see.

Almost as captivating as Shulman and his work was the way that architects, designers, and homeowners received him. He was uniformly honored and cherished. He was beyond architectural squabbles and personal entanglements. He was revered. He was held in a place of suspended deity, a stellar being that was at once orbiting on the perihpery of a movement and completely one with the movement itself.

Julius Shulman was purposed to one thing. He caputred the best of modernism. And he captured it better than anyone else. It is his legacy.

So the questions becomes: What one thing are you purposed to do?

What is it for which people will remember you?

What will your legacy be?

Of Modernism: Modernism Week

Well, hello there.

A couple weeks back, the wife and baby were gone for a week, visiting family in California. I was left alone, bachelorized.

In my week at home alone, I managed to take in a documentary I've had on my "to-watch" list for awhile. As a fan of architecture, modernism, and design, I sat in awe of "Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman". It brought forth a veritable stream of tangential thought-lines and, as such, I'm going to unpack them this week in blog form. We'll call it "Modernism Week".

We kick it off today with "Modernism and Legacy".

Trailer for the film below...

24 June 2010

We Are Them

"They feed us a hostile society ... 'it’s them, everyone outside, they're nasty and they’re going to kill us.' So they force us to retreat to our little enclave in suburbia, and we enter our cocoon to navigate through the hostile territory, along with everyone else. We don’t realize that we are them."

- N. A. Salingaros

Read "Connecting the Fractal City" by N.A. Salingaros here:

18 June 2010

Time is Money? Being Versus Doing

As a College Pastor, I am frequently confronted with students worried about what it is they will do when they get out of school. I am constantly trying to change the conversation from what they will "do" to what they will "be", mainly because we have become obsessed with (and identified by) career. But should we be?

Let's admit that we live in America and no one is likely to go hungry after finishing college. So the question is not how are we going to earn money, but how will we live this life (a small portion of which involves making money).

And so we have to rearrange our thinking. We have to stop meeting people and asking them "what do you do" and start asking them "how's your life". I mean, really, it's a much more interesting question with a whole possible range of provocative answers. I get blank stares half of the time when I ask it as people have to mentally shift out of auto-pilot and engage in actual thought in order to answer the question. And, not surprisingly, every so often someone answers honestly.

"Not so good, man."

This is where life happens. This is where eternity or infinity or destiny gets established. Not in pay stubs or job fulfillment, but in relationships, both vertical and horizontal.

So let's agree together to stop worrying about what it is we have done, are doing, or will do. If He provides for the birds and lillies... Right?!?! It's going to work out just like it is supposed to...

And just in case you hear the phrase, "Time is money", feel free to correct that person.

Life is more than money. And time was never money. And, no matter, one day we'll all be Gone.

Love y'all.

Ellis Park: Memories of 2007

This post originally ran on 05 December 2007. In honor of the US World Cup game in Ellis Park today, I wanted to relive my first experience at the historic stadium...

of apartheid, pap, and crazy, horn-blowing soccer fans: culture day on a mission trip

Every team that I have a hand in leading gets one "culture day" on their mission trip.

The team that was here from San Antonio, from Grace Point, got a unique day of South African culture to be sure. No safari, but that really isn't the culture of Joburg, now is it?

We first went to the Apartheid Museum, where they learned about the people that they would be ministering to. They were able to see, firsthand, what real oppression looks like. It is a sobering trip through the museum, but one which gives the visitor a much clearer picture of why present-day South Africa looks the way it does.

After that, we stopped at Anna's roadside stand for a real South African lunch. Anna sets up a portable kitchen every day in the same spot, with little gas skillets and cardboard counter-tops. She has been in this spot since 2001 and, in our opinion, makes the best pap in Africa. We (eventually - long story) treated the team to pap and chicken or pap and steak. For about $2 a person, you get more food than almost anyone can eat in one sitting. This is the meal that many (if not most) Africans eat every day (minus the meat which is a luxury) and very few visiting missionaries ever try it. Mmm.

Finally, we headed over to Ellis Park for a soccer match between the USA and South Africa. To really know South Africans, you have to see them in their element. And soccer is their element. The USA won 1-0 in a exciting match that saw the South Africans take (and miss) about 47 shots that could have tied it in the 2nd half. The fans were nuts, dancing and shouting and blowing horns and clapping hands... They were the real highlight of the game and the real reason we were there.

The team got a taste (literally and figuratively) of what real Africans go through on a daily basis. They mourned with them, ate with them, and cheered with them.

My hope is that no one on the team will soon forget them.

17 June 2010

"All My Lies Are Only Wishes"

I was listening to a favorite album recently and happened across a lyric that really struck me...

"All my lies are only wishes."

It makes me pause.

Are all of our lies, both verbalized and lived-out, just wishes for something more?

Some of us, for example, are living a lie that we're content in a relationship. And even though that might be the furthest thing from a healthy relationship to be in, we're closing our eyes and living the lie - living the wish - that everything is all good.

Some of us are constantly engaging in little lies. Our parents think we're dating someone, our friends think we're busy/important, our lovers think we're rich, our co-workers think we're happy... Because we're telling little lies all the way around.

It is in the way we dress and in what we put on Facebook or Twitter. It is in the things we eat and the job we do. It is in the church we go to and the stuff we chase.

So where are the lies in your life? And what would happen if they weren't only wishes? What would happen if you were simply you?

Vuvuzela Lovers Rejoice!!

As you may have heard, I love the vuvuzela. And I know that you do too!! (Really, somewhere in you there must be a part of you that doesn't hate the vuvuzela - and that is the part that I will call "love"...)

So to celebrate your love of the vuvuzela, I now have two versions of this blog.

One is traditional, vuvuzela-free. http://theburkholders.blogspot.com/

The new version comes with vuvuzelas for your enjoyment. http://www.vuvuzela-time.co.uk/theburkholders.blogspot.com/

You can thank me later.

14 June 2010

Why I Love the Vuvuzela

I love the vuvuzela. Straight up love it.

I love the vuvuzela because it is uniquely African. It is a cultural staple. And, for once, we (the powerful elitist of the developed world) are being forced to deal with someone else's culture rather that simply overwhelming the "lesser" nation with our vapid idea of what proper culture should be.

All of the complaining parties are offenders of one form or another. Some of you yahoos in Texas shake cowbells at sporting events, which makes the vuvuzela sound like a lullaby.

Others among us are guilty of using those annoyingly lazy hand-clapper things. Who thought there was such a gap in society that we needed to invent that? And what did that brainstorm sound like? "Hmm, I have two hands but that is awfully bothersome to have to clap using both of them. And sometimes I clap wrong and it almost hurts. What if I just had to shake these plastic hand-shaped things and they made a rackety clapping sound? Yes!! Perfect!!"

Worst of all are the dreaded thundersticks. Inflatable banging plastic demons sponsored by Crocs or Kraft Foods or the local Autoplex. Let's just not go there.

But here is the deal. And here is the difference. We use noisemakers in America because we generally lack passion enough to produce organic noise from our own beings. And we're generally too lazy to do much noise-making even if we have all the zeal in the world. So we rely on gimmicky noisemakers that allow us the ability to make "supportive" noise while eating nachos and drinking a 72oz soft drink.

The South Africans, on the other hand, are so over-excited about their teams that they need more ways to make noise. So beyond singing and clapping, they grab the vuvuzela and start to blow. They blow in unison, creating deafening chants with the horns. They wave them in unison, creating impressive displays of spontaneous pseudo-choreographed support. And they dance all the while, celebrating not the ability to dominate on the pitch but the simple freedom to enjoy sport and recreation free from the deafening burdens of life as third-world slum-dwellers.

I love the vuvuzela and the departure it is from life as we know it. I love that it is an instrument of celebration for a people who for so long lacked something to celebrate. I love that in 2004 when the World Cup was awarded to South Africa, the streets immediately filled with the sound of the plastic trumpet and the din lasted long through the night. I love that FIFA has allowed the culture of the host nation to bleed through and that the uptight residents of the rest of the world are irritated by someone else's joyful noise. I love it all.

I love South Africans. I love the vuvuzela.

So You Hate the Vuvuzela?

01 June 2010

Coffee Conversations: Just Passing Through?

Over coffee this week, I had an interesting conversation about where we're all going. No, not in an eternity/heaven/hell type of way, but in the sense of intra-life destinations.

Like, how a young dude claims to be unprepared for marriage until he gets himself all fixed up in the unruly areas of bachelordom. In a larger sense, this is the idea that if we can somehow get ourselves all sorted out and stain-free, then we'll be ready for that next challenge or season.

And yet we all know the reality that it is in the journey when the junk gets sorted out. It is in the breakdown where the beauty becomes visible again.

So why go through life waiting to be acceptable enough or prepared enough or fixed-up enough or polished enough to actually engage in that life? Why not jump in and watch the way that the world was designed to refine us along the way? And why not be satisfied with the notion that we will pass away imperfect and incomplete in our own effort?

Are you an active participant in life? Or are you delusionally waiting for some perfect scenario to present itself, sitting on the sidelines all the while?