slowness | Williams & Tsien

When we think about the bespoke, Tod Williams & BillieTsien writing about “slowness” comes to mind. In their renowned essay, Williams Tsien lament “lost tools” and describe their desire for slowness and its method, design and perception.

 Billie Tsien & Tod Williams in studio | photo credit:  Architectural Digest

Billie Tsien & Tod Williams in studio | photo credit: Architectural Digest

Buildings are still constructed with hands, and it seems that the hand still knows best what the hand is capable of doing.
— Tod Williams & Billie Tsien, "Slowness"

When Tod Williams & Billie Tsien lament the creeping disappearances of the tools of the hand, the premise is not a disdain for new technologies, but a concern for the onset of mass amputations.

When we talk about the “intuition” and “gestures” that describe the earliest stages of their design process, we consider tactile learning and the development of dexterity and muscle memory in the hand. A base elegance is refined to a newly acquired task. The hand learns and knows the clay before it throws it, and there is no distinction between the central core (pulse, lungs, mind) and the hands in the act of creation.

 " Inspired by the idea of the   wunderkammer—  “wonder-room” or “cabinet of curiosities”—that originated during the Renaissance, world-renowned architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien invited 35 celebrated architects and designers from around the world to create their own wunderkammers, filling boxes with objects that inspire them." published by Yale University Press.

"Inspired by the idea of the wunderkammer—“wonder-room” or “cabinet of curiosities”—that originated during the Renaissance, world-renowned architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien invited 35 celebrated architects and designers from around the world to create their own wunderkammers, filling boxes with objects that inspire them." published by Yale University Press.

The desire in Architects like Williams & Tsien, who perceive building as Art, is to achieve a complete and comprehensive unity that is grounded in a history of development, can always be experienced in the present tense, and anticipates a future usefulness that also transcends. An aspect of a complex unifying perception and approach is the abandonment of a false notion of progress.

“Slowness” resists linearity as the only means of moving forward, which resists task-oriented specialties and efficiencies. “The sidetrack is simply a parallel route,” and each route informs the whole process, including the destination; “when engaging a new design, certainty is a prison.” Employing openness to opportunity means nurturing a different kind of work environment. Williams & Tsien shift away from current (non-nurturing) trends by embracing greater generalization.

Generalized is how Williams & Tsien described their office dynamic, “there is no division of labor into design, production, model making or interiors. Each architect is involved in the making of contracts, billing, and writing of letters.” They admit “because each person must be a generalist, a certain amount of efficiency is lost, as each person must learn all the tasks of the office.” But only a  “certain amount.” In the end, their exercise strengthens both the individual and the whole. Their annual weekend office retreat clocks in year-round. I’m curious in how much they save in communication versus what other efficiency models report from start to finish.

 [the late] American Folk Art Museum, NYC | photo credit:  Steve Silverman

[the late] American Folk Art Museum, NYC | photo credit: Steve Silverman

In choosing nurture over the present day nature of the industry, Williams & Tsien reiterate their Mission for the office: “We would like to be financially stable, but this will not outweigh artistic or ethical beliefs, which will always come first.” They reinforce their commitment to be deliberate.

Each pursuit is tailored to the building at hand: building of self, community & work/art/design. The interior ‘develops the logic for the façade,’ and the contextual situation of a building is internalized. The design process reflects its complex, multi-directional discipline. The hand-made is to build as a human with the human in mind. 

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L