I started my first full-time, post-graduate job at SHM Architects three months ago today. It feels like it might have been three days ago, or three years ago, but not three months. Time is funny like that, and I think we’re always—on some (perhaps subconscious) level—wondering how it got away from us.
Directly outside my window—across an alley that I suppose will always pit itself between my office building and the one I’m about to describe—a development is going up that is to include apartments, shops, and even a Trader Joe’s. When I started, it was nothing more than what appeared to be a parking garage for two stories and exposed lumber poking up out of the concrete like toothpicks starting on the third (my floor). Or at least that’s how I remember it. Who could really say? Time is also funny in that way—it starts at one place and ends at another and we can’t remember how the change happened. We weren’t watching closely enough, and we missed it.
So now, when I look out my window, there’s a whole building, with walls and some windows, and the exposed lumber through the eyes of the building looks more like guts than toothpicks. They’ve started laying brick on the bottom half, but from my floor up, it’s still just sheathed in DuPont Tyvek CommercialWrap D. Last week, a coworker paused as he walked past my desk and observed as the wrap flapped in the wind. He said something about how he loved to watch it move, because buildings are fixed, unmovable things, and it’s strange and mysterious to watch something anchored and still be shrouded in a dance. “It’s the building’s skin, you know,” he said.
And now I can’t stop staring out my window at the flapping, untrimmed edges—the building’s rippling epidermis, waving like a flag in the wind. And I’ve wondered why it matters, that bannered Tyvek. And then it hit me. And what hit me is that everything is so very delicate, and so very durable. And I thought about the skin that stretches itself across our bones—that breakable and unbreakable frame—and how it protects us and how it bleeds, and how it changes colors and textures and shapes, and how it lives and dies on us, but never leaves us, and how the thing that holds us all together is flesh, which endures but is also dust. And maybe houses are like that—maybe everything that keeps us safe and dry and warm and beautiful and whole and alive is like our skin, strung up on the flagpoles of our bones, reminding us of why we needed shelter in the first place.
I am not an architect. I studied writing and literature and film in college, and I was hired to assist the principals, manage calendars, coordinate photo shoots, write proposals, and facilitate marketing efforts at the firm. In other words, although I’m learning bits and pieces here and there, mine is the untrained eye, the unskilled hand, the woefully non-esoteric arsenal of words.
But I wonder if buildings are not more like bodies than anything else. They are alive and beating, and we are their heartbeats. They were nothing, and then they were something, and they will probably be nothing someday again. But in the meantime, they, too, are endurance and dust, light and beauty, stone and wood, and life.
—Emma Hamblen, Executive Assistant