Just outside my office I have a little balcony, not much more than a space for a couple of chairs and a table. For as attractive as the idea of sitting out there is, resting on the rickety metal chairs and sketching away on that little table, I don't often venture out there. It is too cold or too hot, the sun blazing or the traffic sounds too loud. The balcony has become a repository of stone samples now, buff and red sandstone chunks stacked against the low walls. But I hate the idea of giving up this little space. More than its actual use, I like the idea that it is there, an extension to my studio, and subject to the hot and the cold, the rain and snow.
As I write this, I am looking out at the remnants of the last snowstorm slowly melting away on the little balcony. The pieces of stone are heating up in the Colorado sun and radiating that heat, retreating the snow around them like a small territory claimed by each rock. The daily and nightly ritual of melting and then re-freezing has made the last vestiges of snow into a miniature glacier, slowly retreating unto itself, stubbornly clinging to the rusty drain cover.
It is easy to loose sight of the existential nature of the work of architecture sitting at a computer in a conditioned office. At a fundamental level, it is not design or form or composition that selects the materials from which we build, but their ability to resist the rain and snow, the sun and wind. The stone and concrete, wood and steel and glass all work diligently to allow us to live insulated from the elements. Working with computer models and drawings, even pencil and paper we forget the weight, the touch and smell of these materials. My little balcony reminds me not just to take a break some time and sit out in the sun, but also to come out and heft the stones around, listen to the drip drip of the melting snow and to love the real materials that we make buildings out of, not just their representations on screens and paper.