Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying Camey Yeh, project manager from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy on an outing for a very unique project – a Mobile Ranger Station we are designing and constructing for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Camey and I took a field trip to San Francisco’s Presidio, and after a turn down the wrong end of a one-way street, we arrived at the utterly unremarkable Building 901. This nondescript brick warehouse contains the Presidio’s private architectural salvage warehouse. The warehouse inventory spans centuries of history, and we were there on a mission: to find parts, widgets and artifacts that I could integrate into the design and construction of the Mobile Ranger Station.
Not every object inside was a related to the use of force. Included in the Presidio’s trove were objects such as a fake pickled brain (stage prop for an old movie filmed in the Presidio), nickel-plated toilet roll holders and, oh, hey, look at that in corner, the original Presidio gates from 1776. As we both lept into the fray of objects, Camey and I sorted and brainstormed about how to reuse pieces. I think it was at that moment that I really appreciated the uniqueness of this project, of this type of creativity, and that my client had an appreciation for this type of design process, which must by definition involves unknowns, improvisation, and discovery. This trio is held together by professional and personal trust and communication, and fueled by curiosity. Over the past many years, I have become increasingly bold about following my curiosity during the design process. This curiosity has drawn me, quite happily, into old barns, noisy metal scrapyards, abandoned horse farms, and quarries in foreign countries.
The outing to Building 901 has made me think about the creative process as a ongoing process of accretion and refinement. Abigail Washburn a chinese law scholar/bluegrass violinist describes this creative process as a process of collage. I resonated with her description of her own creative process – for what are each one of us but an organism that takes cues, objects, and stimulus from our individual experiences? How could our creative process be anything but a collage? Our engaged brains are the ultimate collage artists, whether we collage that information into a painting, a DNA helix, a landscape, a story, or a jazz composition. As I continue to mature as a designer, I have become more familiar with my own accretion//refinement process [collage] process. No longer does it seem scary, inefficient, or messy. Or, let me rephrase that – the “mess” along the way does not seem scary or inefficient, but instead an inevitable, and even embraceable part of the process. I’m getting faster and more agile understanding how to move through the process, yielding more elegant, thoughtful, and articulate designs. Just a few more decades, and I may be on to something.
Good luck out there as accretion//refinement creatives.