How Living Traditions Learn From Mistakes

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   A living tradition is the best mistake-correction system ever developed in architecture by a large margin, and the reason why is simple math: a living tradition engages an entire society to varying degrees in the design of its buildings, activating everyone with four simple words: “we do this because…” When you empower many to think, you get many possible better ways of doing things. Think of it as crowd-sourcing architectural wisdom.

   This is nowhere more obvious than on what I call the Caribbean Rim, where the climate, conditions, and culture are a gumbo of heat, humidity, and hurricanes seasoned withAfrican, English, French, and Spanish cultural influences. Here’s how it worked:

   If you were fortunate enough to survive a hurricane in 1725, but your house was unfortunate enough not to, when you crawled out of the wreckage of your house and saw your neighbor’s house still standing, you undoubtedly would have said “I’m gonna rebuild like that! Simply put, the wisdom of living traditions was hard-won. It was a significant part of the act of survival.

   Today, “tradition” has a bad rap in architectural circles. It is considered to be a set of handcuffs, restraining architects’ creativity. And depending on how you approach it, the architects may be exactly right.

   Many traditionalists approach architecture as a test of taste. They regulate on the basis of “thou shalt do this because I have better taste than you.” “No you don’t!” “Yes I do!” Repeat endlessly. I have served as a Town Architect since the mid-1990s, doing somewhere close to 10,000 individual reviews during that time. I tried all the normal ways first… long enough to find how they failed. And then I came up with another method where I sit down face-to-face with the designer and builder and explain everything on a foundation of principles rather than taste. “We do this because…” And in all those years, I can count on one hand the number of times someone has left the room in substantial disagreement.

   Simply put, principles are the friend of the architect, the builder, and the owner. Once the basic principles of how best to build in this place are established, everyone is free to thing, create, and develop the best solutions for them.

   This is one of the core foundations of A Living Tradition [Architecture of The Bahamas]. I just finished the second edition, and the totally rewritten first and last chapters contain answers to questions I’ve had for years, if not decades. If you have the new edition or pick it up anytime soon, I’d really love to hear what you think about these new ideas!

   ~Steve Mouzon

One more thing… I’m delighted to be participating in a blogoff again! This one is ArchiTalks, organized by Lora Teagarden, and this week's topic is learning from mistakes. I’ll update the links tomorrow as more posts come online. Enjoy the reads!

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
some kind of mistake

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Learning from mistakes in architecture

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Archi-scar - That Will Leave a Mark!

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"Learning from Mistakes..."

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Forgotten Mistakes

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Are Architects Experts?

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
A, B, C, D, E...

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Learning from Mistakes

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Learning from mistakes


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© Stephen A. Mouzon 2020