As architects, we spend a good portion of our professional lives leading committee meetings – meetings that typically convene by immediately diving in to the subject at hand. Over a 3-year span of time some 15 years ago, I worked with the First Unitarian Church of Portland – with clients who gave me a great gift by modeling a different and compelling way of beginning meetings.
Unitarian principles strongly encourage human connection and authenticity, so at each gathering, one of my clients would remind us to all approach our impending collective work with humility and by becoming fully present. The form this would take could be anything: a story, a poem, a question. It really didn’t matter as long as it, even briefly, took us all out of our heads and into our hearts.
I have never forgotten how much these brief exercises inspired me, and so, over time (with the right client and when feeling bold!), I have tried to emulate this practice. In addition to much poetry, some of my “presence” moments have included things like:
- Asking all to imagine what gifts the future inhabitants of their building would find 100 years hence when they opened the time capsule we had left for them
- Playing Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1
- Showing Charles and Ray Eames’ Power of Ten
- Asking everyone to describe their favorite piece of furniture in their home and why
- Singing a Pete Seeger song together… just for the fun of it
I have also found that preparing and facilitating these “presence moments” has given me an unexpected gift by forcing me to clear my mind of the cacophony of design process details and also to never forget that architecture exists to serve the miraculous and sometime messy complexity of human beings.