Crystal Cave - 2001


“What do you Want?”


It was a few minutes after midnight January 1958 when I realized that I was going to fail in architecture. I was alone and had celebrated the New Year by myself. My celebration was to take the time to think about my nearly two years of work in architecture and what they meant. A time to be brutally honest with the conclusions.


I was finishing my work in Red Bluff California and getting ready to join the Taliesin Fellowship in Arizona. By this time, I had acquired enough experience in architect’s offices to know that this path was not for me. I was to find that even Taliesin - a place that I came to love - was also not for me. This revelation was in the future - in the present there was still this small measure of hope.


“What do you want?”

This was the question I asked. The answer was immediate and a surprise. I saw a rolling landscape with a scattered yet integrated community of people and their habitats. A community of Cathedral Builders. It was much like Taliesin as I imagined it to be. But it was clearly not Taliesin - and that was the surprise. I briefly experienced a place of true collaboration and the ability to act effectively and comprehensively in the real world. Yet, also a place of refuge, of quite, beauty and organizational serenity. An organization of peers with skills that ranged all over the many fields of interest related to architecture, technology and society. This IMAGE came a a gestalt - it actually took me several years to unravel all of it and to remember each piece that made up the whole. As I learned, new aspects would be revealed with greater clarity - like pealing an onion.


I have tried a couple of times to make this place. My name for it is Renascense - the act of rebirth. I believe that it may be possible now because the specific working MISSION of it is now becoming clear - and that has been missing before. It took years to grasp what I wanted to do and put that intent into the CONTEXT of the time and place that makes the world of which I am a part. As I did so, the PROBLEM that was created was as shocking as the realization that I would fail in my original vision of architecture. I set out to design buildings - mostly houses. Today, I am setting out to design a WORLD through a collaborative process - neither of things were on my mind in 1958. Yet, every decision, every fork in the road, every bridge burned behind, lead one step at a time to this starting point. It seems strange even to me - a bit anyway - to be “starting” at age 63 after 45 years of work.


It has taken a long time for me and the society I live in - and am now beginning to effect - to merge toward some kind of rough compatibility. That is what the autobiographical aspect of this web site is about - an attempt to understand these 45 years. There is a great deal of paradox here. The society, in general, seems (to me) even more alienated to what I believe - at the same time - there seems to be a growing window to implement based on what I believe. This may be the result of life cycles and the gap between generations. It may that a certain amount of alienation - and, thus, detachment - is necessary for doing the kind of work I do. I know this: the greatest pleasure I get is working with young architects and seeing their eyes come alive when I can show them that there IS a way to build with integrity. It is like I have become a store house that only they will be able to empty.


I have always been a misfit - and remain so. Is it possible you can just get good at it?


That early morning at the beginning of 1958 was shocking to me. Up until then, I had thought it was merely a matter of growing up and finding the creative people that would want to build great things. I had thought that my condition was only one of childhood. I found out it was not. I was experiencing a symptom of a far deeper, more general, systemic problem. I did not understand it then. I still do not in the way of understanding that one can call experience. I understand it only intellectually. I once believed that if I could only build an alternative that many would be able to see it - and, they would respond positively. I do not know if that is true today. I still am compelled to built, however. I am also easier with the idea that it may be rejected. I am OK with the market ignoring my product - I am not resolved to the option never making it to the market at all. The great thing about the WWW is that at least each of us can publish our experience and find those of like-intentions. This fact, alone, makes the waiting easier.


Another paradox is that what I have built has been highly regarded by most of those who have used these environments. In fact these small offerings - only a fraction of the vision - have often been heaped with praise. However, this has never made getting the “next one” started any easier. I thought it would. The 109 projects that I am documenting on the web site - all together - make a body of work that SAYS something. What has been built - so far - is only the overture - and a short one at that. Given the nature of what has been built, there have been few clients and many, many users. Thousands have used my work and very few have any awareness of it as a totality. What it ADDS up to, therefore, is almost a total unknown to those who use it. There is no telling what will be the result as the larger picture starts to be revealed.

The poignancy is this: nearly 43 years ago I realized that I would not succeed at building modest habitats - art pieces, really, for a small group of patron clients. Now, I am proposing projects of immense scale that effect a globe. About 25 years ago I was asked what I wanted to do in architecture and I said (with a smile) “just to rebuild the world for a 10% fee.” At the time I thought I was joking. I never set out to regard the earth both as a living system (GAIA) AND as an artifact to be be designed.


When, in 1958, I forced my self to look failure in the eye - an unnatural act for a 20 year old - it did not change anything that I did for a number of years. In fact, I kept plowing ahead - undaunted and determined - until I crashed and burned in 1974. This ended one era (which really started in 1950) and started another that took me to today which is now ending as 2001 is ending. The task now is to put these two pieces together in a way that can add up to something use-full. As I do this, this exercise in self-reflection will be finished - at least for awhile. My experience is that a life MISSION is not self-chosen - it chooses you. Those we call “genius” are those that do not run away from the “given” challenge - they embrace it. The mission may be given but the way to realize it is a path of many choices. The rules you play by are self-chosen and result from the most important decisions one ever makes. This is the integrity issue. I choose integrity. I also decided that I would not allow myself to hide behind the skirts of “genius” and eccentricity. I wanted practical results and a human life along with it. The ambitions of youth can only be the result of ignorance, native arrogance and exuberant imagination. However, I will not go back on it now. All these years I have had the VISION that came that New Years morning - against this has been years of sometimes bitter experience. Vision won. I will never repent. Besides, along the way I have had some damn good times.


Today, when I teach my Architectural Practice Course, I encourage my students to follow their dream and to do it with eyes wide open. To match their ambitions with their willingness to risk and their true requirements as a human. Bringing new ART (of any kind) to the world is not about conflict with the world. I have always believed that the burden of proof is with the innovator. The burden of honesty, however, is with the society and that is another matter to be discussed elsewhere.


I am a conceptual thinker but not an abstract thinker. To me, an idea has to be linked directly with a project and with an environment in which to do the project. Otherwise is makes no SENSE to me. No matter how well written, or how well drawn, it does not matter to me unless it is built. To the extent that I let it happen, I suffer when I cannot build. My building are tangible things before my eyes. They DEMAND to be real. They rebuke me when I fail to bring them to life. This is one reason why I have deliberately chosen, until now, to conceive so few projects. It has been too painful. In the past two years, I have changed course. 15 of 109 works have been born in recent these times and many more are on the way. In addition, many orphans of the past are being readapted to the present - their time has come. The BODY of the work is emerging.


One thing that any passionate artist has to watch is self-indulgence. The edge between this and self-awareness is thin. I started this web site, in 1998, with my essay on 1947. This portion of the site has deliberately been an exploration of my past. I wanted to make sense of it and understand where I was. There are still many holes. A 63 year story is a long one. I will continue to fill these in. Beginning in 2002, my focus will progressively turn to creating PRODUCT on this site. The exclusive biography focus stops - for a time - with 2001 although I will keep the year-to-year story documented. The pattern of the past has revealed itself. The rest is detail.


The truth is that there is no such thing as success or failure - there is just life. Success and failure are utility concepts that help with the act of navigation. They make way-points possible. Ideas about success and failure should never be uploaded to the realm of the metaphysical. They are not measures of reality. They cannot define or judge experience. If taken too seriously, they can generate fear and kill the ability to produce. Life has to be lived not managed. Children, biological or intellectual, have to be let go. There is risk in this... and, there is hope.
Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
March 31, 1999

SolutionBox voice of this document:

click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted March 31, 1999

revised December 15, 2001
• 19990331.238820 • • 20001114.452871.mt • 20001218.763812.mt •
• 20011118.659910.mt
• 20011215.298871.mt •

(note: this document is about 75% finished)

Cpoyright© Matt Taylor 1999, 2000, 2001


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