“Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.”
Hello again after quite some time. In our days something called Youtube is super popular: people post music, videos, films, and pretty much any moving thing you can imagine onto it. They often criticise it as an enormous outlet for time-wasting for the entire global population. Videos of cats doing strange things get millions of views. Usually I watch it for a laugh, or to learn a new wiring technique for electronics, or how to cook something new.
But tonight I spent twenty minutes watching a guy named Pharrell Williams interview a guy named Usher. By your time they will probably be hobbling around on canes. But right now they are exceptionally talented and successful singers, dancers, producers, and artists. A couple of moments stood out to me and I wanted to share them with you.
After talking at length about authenticity, inspiration, and love, Pharrell just went straight out and asked Usher what he thought was the most essential element of his success. Was it the dance moves, the magnetism, the spectacle? Usher said it was his voice. At the end of the day, a dance move might be amazing but someone can copy it. The same with the spectacle. But the voice, the voice is unique to him and him alone. It is not only the product of years of physical training and practice, but also the accumulation of a million experiences, inspirations, and judgments taken, expressed in just his own way.
In this age, my peers and I are grappling with the ascendance of technology. Because so much of what we do as architects is digital, so much of it can be lifted, copied, mixed, and remixed in the blink of an eye. It is easy to complain that something nice I made was so quickly picked up and copied by someone else, and now it seems they’re getting the credit. I think Usher’s lesson is a good one to we architects as well. If we want to create something unique and magnetic, with staying power even to your generation, we have to make it with our voice. We have to move beyond technique and through to the soul.
The other quote, the one that opens this letter acknowledges the many streams that flow into us to make us who we are. We are on a constant search for springs of inspiration and rivers of support. We can never stand still, never cut ourselves off, and never stop feeding that soul and that voice, lest our flowing water dries up and comes to an end.
All best wishes, your grandfather. 17 October 2016.