Context: Culture/Supermarket, Other

473.1996.a-w

From my short story “The Adventures of Little Willy”

Yet dread flies to sudden rapture when he drops his guard and lets the calling in and follows it where it takes him, to an elaborate, specialized physical world of special preservatives and boosters and enhancers, compounds that only a chemist could understand, all capable of God knows what; a sheer verbal universe with a language unto itself, its own way of spelling the names of its brandz and produx—Huggies, Jell-O, Drano, Nexxus, Gas-X, Durex, Zantac, Ex-Lax, Renuzit, and, at the head of one aisle, a special on Cheez-Its—and its own way of giving special meanings to ordinary words—Pampers, Depend, Resolve, Glad, Glade, Gentle Glide, and Joy—or which frees itself from conventional meanings and creates its own; a whole new culture, or cultures, or a multitude of cultures, with styles ranging from the delicate and floral and herbal to the unabashedly ramped up, with signs and pictures that point in all directions.

Such utter diversity of voices and choices competing freely with each other for his attention, and not just for his but for that of all the faces in the store from around the world and of anyone and everyone everywhere, taking him and them all to some special place, or places, or to seemingly infinite places unto themselves—it is empowering, and exhilarating, and still something else.

But after passing through three aisles of morgue-like freezers filled with packaged foods, he feels a chill and rapture falls to somber reflection.

There lie underneath, he knows, issues of limited resources and delicate balances in nature disrupted, and of labor, of working conditions and status, of distribution of wealth here and across the globe, which, if investigated, would raise many questions. Still, the exuberance is compelling and it is hard not to believe that something would remain after the leveling of such analysis, that there is some whole much greater than the sum of all the parts, or vastly, ecstatically less, or which has nothing to do with parts, a passion that cannot be dissected or suppressed.

What would Adam Smith have to say?

Or Karl Marx?.

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Above picture detail from James Rosenquist painting F-111

First Construction: A Multiple Use College Center

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Ritual is the transcendence of function to the level of a meaningful act.

Public architecture at its best aspires to be just this: a setting for ritual that makes of each user, for a brief moment, a larger person than he or she is in daily life, filling each one with the pride of belonging.

Spiro Kostof, A History of Architecture

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Preliminary

I have taught college English for over thirty years at eight different schools. Add my own education and most of my life has been spent in an educational institution of some sort. With the schools’ programs comes their architecture, their buildings, their classrooms, the designs and functions of those. Little has left a lasting impression and most has diminished what should be a memorable experience.

Most schools where I’ve taught have been places of division and isolation, both physically and psychologically. There are few places for informal gathering, while departmental and administrative conflicts make interchange difficult. Disciplines and governance are kept separate without meaningful integration, even without casual personal contact. Their architecture itself often exerts mass control, based on hierarchies that lack vital priorities, on a process divorced from real purpose. Their design is simplistic and standardized, if not sterile. Everything looks the same, making a walk across campus monotonous.

So I thought I’d try to design my own school. This is a conceptual study, really a diversion, and a great many details have not been worked out. One consideration that needs to be made in any effort to start afresh is why good ideas often go wrong, and mine may well prove to be no exception. Any plan must not only be grounded in a substantial set of ideas but also tested by extensive use and practice.

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Site: What It’s Like Where I Live

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Fall 2011

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Cupertino is about process.

The process is about—

The process is—

The town, when I moved there, was a quiet, somewhat pleasant place at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with rather basic homes and cherry orchards here and there, half bedroom community, half unresolved. Most I ran into, like me, were starting out in life, on their way up and out. I largely knew Cupertino by the streets that led to the highways of my commute, 35 miles north to Hayward State on 280 and 30 miles south on 17 to UC Santa Cruz. I was a part-time college English instructor.

That was twenty-four years ago.

Marriage, a job in town at the community college, later a son—it was time to come to terms with what it was like where I lived. But also writing. Memories of other places had decayed, and those places had changed, perhaps beyond recognition. Writing, like life, is a matter of taking what you have before you and seeing what you can figure out. So I tried to discover the world I had bypassed.

I couldn’t find it.

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Cupertino now. Of course it looks like a blowup of an integrated circuit. Cupertino is in the heart of Silicon Valley, which is more a concept than a precise physical area, extending roughly from Stanford University down to San Jose. During the boom years the tech firms screamed for more green cards, and programmers and would-be entrepreneurs and still others poured in. Ranch houses started going for a million or were leveled and replaced with huge, stucco palaces on small lots. It amazed me anyone had that kind of money. The orchards are gone, and there is housing all the way up into the hills.

Full text appeared at Numéro Cinq

An updated version can be found under different title at Archinect